By the slimmest of margins, voters in St. Charles County decided last week to create the St. Charles County Police Department.
Voters in the County passed a charter amendment by 1,154 votes (81,812 yes votes to 80,658 no votes) to create the new department. The changes are set to take place on Jan. 1, 2015.
"If I didn't think the voters would make the right call, I wouldn't have proposed it in the first place," St. Charles County Sheriff Tom Neer said.
The Sheriff's Department will live on and be in charge of court services, prisoner transport, and process serving. A sheriff would still be elected and would remain in charge of the departments.
The new county police department, similar to St. Louis County's, would be overseen by a new county police chief. Instead of the voters choosing the new chief, the chief would be appointed. In Neer's eyes, this is the best part of the new department.
"The upside is that it pretty well ensures that, in the future, the law enforcement manager for law enforcement services in the county will be selected based on professional standards and qualifications," Neer said.
About 180 sheriff's employees would move over to the new police department according to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Neer said the new department is really just a restructuring. The organization will remain the same he said, it will just have a different structure.
"It will be normal—just like it is today," Neer said. "Law enforcement services in the county will not change Jan. 1, 2015, [it won't be] any different from what it is today."
Neer, who proposed the amendment to the County Council, said the changing makeup of St. Charles County caused the department to look at changing the way things were done.
"This has been discussed for several years within the sheriff's department," Neer said. "The county is no longer a rural county. It's the third-largest in the state with a population of 365,000 and it's now an urban county. So, once again, it was determined that the individual that is responsible for the law enforcement services in the county and responsible for the safety and the security of the residents, should be a qualified individual."
The creation of the new department would cost some money, Neer said, but only on a small scale.
"There's no cost to the taxpayers," Neer said. "The only cost is maybe changing uniforms, the decaling on the cars, patches, badges and those kinds of issues,"
Neer said the money would not come from officer's salaries. Nothing, he said, would be taken out of the budget. Instead, the department would use seized money to pay for things.
"[The changes] will be funded through our government enforcement fund, and that is derived from asset forfeitures, seizures and drug dealers," Neer said. "That money cannot be used for salaries. ... The guidelines for that money is set by the federal government for training, equipment, and some law enforcement functions. We're not taking anything away from the salaries of law enforcement officers. It's not taxpayer money, it's money seized from drug dealers."
The changes will start in 2015. Neer's term as sheriff expires at the end of 2014 and he has a few options. He could retire, apply to be the new chief or run for re-election as the sheriff.
Before the new department can be created, several things still need to be hashed out.
"There are a few issues that need to be discussed and solved internally," Neer said. "That will be done by a committee that we're going to set up here before the end of the year. That committee will look at issues that may have slipped through the cracks and need to be addressed. They'll determine if they're going to change uniforms, what they'll be, what the decaling on the vehicles will be, and designing of the badge and patch."
For now, however, nothing has changed for the department.
"It's business as usual," Neer said. "Come Jan. 1, 2015, we'll flip the switch."