By Sue Britt
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Three Missouri cities have sued St. Louis County to try to block a new law that requires minimum policing standards, saying it interferes with their rights to control their own departments, a representative for a municipal group said on Friday.
The cities of Rock Hill, Olivette and Breckenridge Hills, all St. Louis suburbs, have filed suit, and other municipalities are expected to join the litigation in the coming weeks, said Pat Kelly, executive director of the St. Louis County Municipal League, which represents most of the municipalities in the county.
Police practices in the St. Louis area have come under scrutiny since a white police officer fatally shot unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown in August 2014 in the suburb of Ferguson. The incident triggered local rioting and numerous demonstrations around the country.
Kelly called the ordinance a "strong-arm attempt" by County Executive Steve Stenger to consolidate the county's municipalities and police departments. The cities' petition, which asks the Circuit Court of St. Louis County to stop the law from taking effect on Dec. 17, was filed on Wednesday.
The St. Louis County Council passed the ordinance on Tuesday partly in response to complaints about unequal treatment of minorities in Ferguson.
The law requires that all 57 police departments be able to release prisoners on bond 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and always have at least one officer and one supervisor on duty.
It also gives the county executive authority to investigate the cities' police services, prosecute a city's mayor or chief of police and take over police departments if services are lacking.
The law requires that cities conduct background checks of new hires, properly train officers and establish a policy prohibiting contact or detention on the basis of race or other discriminatory factors.
Kelly said that while the Municipal League believes in "best practices," the various municipalities should be able to decide what those should be.
Stenger said in a statement the law is designed to ensure residents have equal access to consistent, high-quality law enforcement throughout the county, as well as to improve safety in the county.
Some officials in local municipalities, Stenger said, lacked "the will or wherewithal" to correct longstanding problems in their police departments, which made the law necessary.
"Unfortunately, some officials saw this bill as a threat to their control rather than as a commonsense step toward improving the lives of the people they are sworn to serve," Stenger said.
(Reporting by Sue Britt; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Will Dunham)