Wellston, a suburb in St. Louis, has lost its police department. Neighboring Vinita Park police department is now in charge of dealing with any criminal issues that go on in Wellston. The police department of the suburb, which had a population of 2,000, was financially weak and there had been a number of incidences involving the department recently. Now that the suburb has lost its police department, Vinita Park will be hiring more officers to expand its services. Policy makers can observe the changes in the economy and police services in this part of the county to build conclusions on how the shift has worked out.
The joint department that is made up of Vinita Park’s and Wellston’s police departments is now known as the North County Police cooperative. What has happened here is that the distribution of police services in St. Louis county has shifted from being available by cities to a level that involves a section of the county. Of course this is not a shift in every suburb in St. Louis, but policy makers can see how efficiently things run when one small area consolidates another. The system under which cities are ran affect the quality of services available. Observations will answer questions about a change in financial benefits, and whether or not services will become more efficient, or less. This is an opportunity for Wellston to show policy makers how a shift in power can affect a county.
The mishaps that occurred with the Wellston police department included a scandal with local Councilwoman Janet Dixon. Dixon’s son admitted to officers that he had been selling drugs from his house after it had been raided. The officers behind the investigation were fired, but were later reinstated. Strangely enough, one of the officers involved in the raid was fired again because a year later, he was involved in an issue with Dixon’s son again. This time, the call came to officers about a domestic violence issue. Councilwoman Dixon had been sent to jail on suspicion of possessing a firearm which had its serial numbers removed. Four hours after being released, she reportedly spearheaded a meeting with fellow council members and they decided to do away with the police department. However, the incidents involving Dixon are only the cherry-on-top of issues with the department.
During a Council Meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Griffin read off a list of issues that the department had been involved in. He stated a lack of internal control, mishandling of evidence, sexual harassment suits, and missing bail money as a handfull of the issues. In spite of all the support the Mayor got for writing up the contract with Vinita Park, he said that he “hated to do it” because he had grown up in Wellston and was proud of its name. However, there was one notable council member who was unhappy with the decision, Linda Garner. She was asked to leave for asking questions about the contract.
The sample period that has been proposed so far is an initial nine-months, with payments already written out for Wellston to pay Vinita Park for the next three years in order to finance the patrolling. Wellston will be saving a lot of money by not having to pay for its very own police department. The officers were so poorly financed in the first place, they made $12 an hour and had to buy their own guns. If the new system provides for economic benefits at a city-level, then citizens better hope that the system is also excellent at handling its policing duties now. Ultimately, the questions that are floating in the wake of the department’s disbandment are how citizens in Wellston will be affected financially, and in terms of security. Will the few officers that are rehired to join the North County Police Cooperative make up for the economic downside of so many officers losing their jobs? Will the cooperative be able to do its job well? Also, will both cities economically benefit from teaming up as a section of St. Louis County to carry out services?
If the system proves to be beneficial, it can possibly be mimicked in other parts of the country. If the system is insufficient, policymakers will either have to find a new approach, or restore Wellston’s police department. Surely enough, citizens will be reporting the effects of the change, and policy analysts can add those ideas to their observations. Wellston can show policy makers how a shift in power works out.
By Tania Dawood
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Photo Courtesy of Don O’Brien’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License