St. Charles County Council members said what a group of residents wanted to hear this week, telling them they aren’t returning any military equipment donated to the Sheriff’s Department by the federal government. But the council also told residents something they did not want to hear – that they weren’t going to put a charter amendment on the November ballot asking for another vote on the future of county law enforcement.
During a public comment portion of their Aug. 25 meeting, council members heard from a number of speakers on law enforcement issues.
Steve Steen, one of the residents, spoke in support of the Sheriff Department’s use of military equipment donated by federal authorities. He said he fears government officials may limit the use of this equipment by law enforcement because of concerns about the “militarization” of police departments stemming from the recent unrest in Ferguson.
“This equipment is used in critical situations and has proven to save lives on many occasions,” Steen said. He also said police needed to protect themselves in Ferguson.
“We want to make sure these politicians are educated in the matter before jumping the gun and disarming these officers,” Steen said.
Council President Mike Klinghammer (District 6) assured those gathered that “we don’t have any plans at all to withdraw any of the equipment from the Sheriff’s Department.”
“That is not being considered,” he said.
Military equipment owned by St. Charles County includes an armored personnel vehicle from the U.S. Department of Defense and a 5-year old Lenco “Bearcat.”
The armored personnel vehicle does not have guns or turrets. County officials have said that the vehicle will be used by law enforcement during shooting incidents, supporting high-risk narcotics events, during natural disasters such as flooding and after tornados as well as snow or ice events, and for helping other departments.
The Bearcat does not have as much ground clearance and can’t carry as many passengers as the personnel vehicle; however, deputies want it as a backup vehicle if one breaks down.
Also at the Aug. 25 meeting, some residents urged the council to consider placing a charter amendment on the November ballot to allow residents to vote on changing law enforcement in the unincorporated area.
The St. Charles County Sheriff Preservation Initiative mounted a petition drive to place an amendment on the ballot, saying ballot language on a measure approved in 2012 was confusing.
Council member Joe Brazil (District 2) told residents that he agreed with comments that the language was confusing in 2012. However, in regard to the November election, there wasn’t anything the county could do because the petition drive failed and the deadline is past for placing issues on the ballot, he said.
Roughly 8,500 to 9,000 signatures were submitted to the authority, a number that is short of requirements to place the amendment on the November ballot.
The petition drive group said at the council’s Aug. 11 meeting that the county election authority gave her group different and varied numbers making it difficult to determine how many signatures they needed. The group had hoped that the council could intercede on their behalf.
“The sad fact is that there is not time to re-evaluate this,” Brazil said.