JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Supporters of an initiative that could grant St. Louis greater control over its police force submitted petition signatures Tuesday to get the measure on the November ballot.
Since 1861, the St. Louis police force has been overseen by a five-person board consisting of the mayor and four members appointed by the governor. The proposed ballot initiative would allow the city of St. Louis to take over the administration of the Police Department beginning in July 2013.
The issue must go before a statewide vote because it involves a change in state law.
Supporters organized under a group called the "Safer Missouri Citizens Coalition" said they submitted more than 164,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office. To qualify for the ballot, proposed statutory changes must garner signatures from 5 percent of the number of registered voters - in six of the state's nine congressional districts - who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election. That means the threshold to qualify for the November ballot is about 98,000 valid signatures, based on the districts targeted by supporters of the St. Louis police initiative.
It will be up to local election officials to verify petition signatures and the secretary of state's office to certify the measure for the ballot.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has been among those pushing for greater local control of the police force. The petition drive was launched after efforts to end the state-appointed board repeatedly failed in the state Legislature, most recently during a special session last fall.
"The number of signatures, and the short timespan in which we were able to collect them, shows widespread agreement with this common-sense measure," said Brooke Foster, spokeswoman for the Safer Missouri Citizens Coalition. "Missourians are ready to get rid of this antiquated, Civil War-era law and return control of the St. Louis Police Department to the city and the people of St. Louis."
In 2010, more than two-thirds of St. Louis voters backed a nonbinding resolution urging local control of the Police Department.