The Columbia Daily Tribune — Republican candidate for governor Eric Greitens is offering simplified solutions for law enforcement that aren’t realistic and won’t work, Attorney General Chris Koster said as he toured the state Tuesday touting an endorsement from the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police.
The police union voted unanimously at its state assembly to endorse Koster, President Rick Inglima said at Columbia Regional Airport during one of four stops on an air tour of the state with Koster, the Democratic candidate for governor. Inglima was joined by Alan Mitchell, president of the Columbia Police Officers Association, Joe Patterson of the St. Louis County Police Association and Elliot Riggins, executive vice president of the Kansas City Police Association.
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They praised Koster for his tough stance on crime, support for police pay raises and efforts to recruit more officers from low-income and minority neighborhoods.
How Koster handled events in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown — and how Greitens has said he would have handled it — helped win the endorsement. The police leaders praised Koster for being on hand during protests that turned violent and for keeping a low profile during the fight between Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch over whether to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.
During the GOP primary campaign, Greitens said he would have imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and exerted a personal “command presence” in Ferguson that “could have had peace by the second night.”
That is political rhetoric that shows Greitens doesn’t understand what officers faced in Ferguson, Koster said.
“These types of comments certainly cast a high praise on his abilities that probably transcends any logic or reason,” he said. “Those of us who were on the street, nearly every day, as Joe” Patterson “was, as I was nearly every day, know what a chaotic and difficult situation it really was and among those in Missouri law enforcement, as complicated as any we have ever seen.”
Greitens’ claims about Ferguson do not explain how he would have accomplished what he promised, Koster said.
“I think that it is in line with many other, in my opinion, self-serving and relatively arrogant statements that he has made that he alone would have walked on water and solved this situation in two days,” Koster said.
Greitens’ campaign manager, Austin Chambers, did not respond to an email and a telephone message seeking comment.
Mitchell did not speak at Koster’s news conference, but in an interview afterward he said he agrees with the state organization’s action.
“He’s been a friend to us,” Mitchell said. “When many others come around at election time, he’s been with the FOP even when it is not an election year.”
Missouri should create “gun courts” to handle criminal cases involving firearms in heavily populated areas, Koster said. The courts would be directed to increase bonds to keep defendants charged with violent crimes off the streets and impose mandatory sentences.
Questioned about his call to boost police pay, Koster acknowledged that the state would have to pay for any mandated increases. The state can set pay standards through the Missouri State Highway Patrol, he said, but otherwise it must be done through persuasion.
The issue provides “a moral spotlight to talk about the need for increased pay across policing in our state,” Koster said.
Patterson praised Koster for his support of police during the Ferguson unrest. “I always knew he had our backs and helped us do our job,” he said.
As he discussed the unrest in Ferguson, Koster contrasted how he would handle the situation with how Nixon acted. Koster said he was with officers almost every day, spoke to protesters and would have been there every day as governor.
In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death, Nixon and McCulloch had a public fight over whether a special prosecutor should take over the case, with Nixon eventually deferring to McCulloch, who chose not to use a special prosecutor. That dispute won’t be repeated if he is elected, Koster said, because he believes local prosecutors should be in charge of deciding when to file charges against officers.
“That has been my established position for some time,” Koster said.