St. Louis to require many departing officers to reimburse the city for training academy expenses

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones has signed a bill into law that may deter police recruits from signing up – and will definitely penalize them if they leave too soon.

Board Bill 195 requires officers who leave the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department within four years of starting their training at the academy – and who then accept employment at another law enforcement agency within 12 months of leaving – to pay back a portion of the costs associated with their training.

The maximum cost to the city associated with a trainee’s attendance at the academy is listed in the bill as $36,983. According to the bill, if a trainee or academy graduate leaves the department under listed circumstances and gets employed at another law enforcement agency within a year after leaving, the individual must reimburse the city by the following parameters:

  • Academy graduates – an amount equal to the sum of the tuition divided by 48, then multiplied by the number of months less than 48 which the trainee has served (St. Louis) as a probationary and/or commissioned police officer.
  • Police officer (trainee) – an amount equal to the sum of the tuition divided by 28, then multiplied by the number of weeks of training completed prior to the resignation or termination of the trainee. 

For example, if an academy graduate serves the city of St. Louis for one year as an officer and then leaves for another agency, that officer is required to pay back $27,737. If the officer serves the city for two years and goes elsewhere, he or she is required to pay back $18,491.

Although such training reimbursement policies as St. Louis’ aren’t out of the ordinary, critics say it’s an ill-timed move – to put up barriers to police recruiting when the nation’s anti-law enforcement climate has already made recruitment difficult.

In addition, law enforcement experts question the St. Louis bill’s labyrinthine wording – which may send potential recruits to their lawyers to figure out, and which may ultimately be challenged legally at taxpayers’ expense.

“Our consensus is the language is confusing when it comes to possible repayment,” National Police Association spokesperson Sgt. Betsy Smith told The Heartlander. “While the spirit of the law is not unreasonable, the confusing language probably means it will end up in court.”

In order to be legally obligated to reimburse the city for training expenses, the bill says, an officer/trainee must become employed at another law enforcement agency within 12 months of leaving the St. Louis department, according to point No. 3 on the new recruit training agreement. But that may not actually be the case, according to point No. 6 on the same policy.

According to point No. 6 of the agreement, officers/trainees must pay the city back within six months of resignation or termination. However, point No. 3 said the officers/trainees must get another job in law enforcement within a year of leaving for them to be liable for reimbursing the city. So, which is it? 

Furthermore, if an officer leaves the department and doesn’t get another law enforcement job in the following eight months, point No. 3 says the officer doesn’t owe the city anything, while point No. 6 says the officer would be already late on payments at that point. 

Can the bill and its contractual agreement with new recruits even stand legal scrutiny?

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen “just can’t seem to make a decision that is normal,” said Randy Sutton, retired Las Vegas police lieutenant and host of the Voice for American Law Enforcement. “They’re so incompetent. This is an agency that can’t hire people because nobody wants to go work there. They have the most anti-law enforcement political leadership.

“There are no positives to this. What many agencies are doing now is offering signing bonuses in order to recruit experienced officers. Now you have St. Louis, who is so far behind the eight ball with both recruiting and retention, and now they’re taking this stance. All that this is going to do is make it more difficult to recruit qualified applicants.”

Despite the complete lack of clarity in the law and its flimsy ability to be upheld in court, the financial repercussions if a trainee does not fully reimburse the city may appear ominous to a young officer just starting out. If a trainee is unable to fully reimburse the city within six months of termination or resignation, the city can slap a 9% interest rate, compounded monthly, on the rest of the amount still owed.

And it gets worse.

If the city elects to pursue legal action to retrieve the payment, “the trainee will be liable to the city for all of the city’s litigation costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees,” the agreement reads. 

So, it’s still unclear when departing officers must start repayment. But if the city somehow finds that they are late on their payments, St. Louis officials feel the best course of action is using the city’s resources and tax dollars to sue the officer and bury them with litigation costs and expenses – added onto what they already owe. 

It also begs the question: If trainees are unable to pay the original amount owed, how would they be able to pay it after the debt is multiplied? 

The Heartlander sought clarification on the payment guidelines several times from both the St. Louis mayor’s office and the bill’s sponsor, Ward 3 Alderman Brandon Bosley, but received no response. 

The fact that the bill got to the mayor’s desk, and passed the St. Louis Board of Aldermen unanimously, with so many practical and legal questions unresolved calls the bill’s process into serious question – along with the board’s diversity of thought.

St. Louis politicians seen as provoking an anti-police environment 

St. Louis has garnered widespread attention in recent months for its politicians aggravating an existing anti-law enforcement climate in the city. After President Biden emphasized the need to “fund” instead of “defund” law enforcement in his 2022 State of the Union address, St. Louis Congresswoman Cori Bush snapped back in disagreement. 

“Defund the police. Invest in our communities,” the far-left “Squad” member tweeted in response to Biden. “All our country has done is given more funding to police. The result? 2021 set a record for fatal police shootings.”

That’s in addition to the bewildering hesitancy of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to charge a man who allegedly pointed a gun at police officers on March 19. Despite the Metropolitan Police Department’s request to file charges of first-degree robbery, armed criminal action and resisting arrest, Gardner has thus far refused to file any charges.

The Heartlander asked the mayor’s response to those who believe the new law will be a deterrent for potential St. Louis Police Academy applicants. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office responded with the following:

“The ordinance protects city and police resources, which is why this bill passed unanimously at the Board of Aldermen before the mayor signed it into law. St. Louis residents want to know that their nearly $37,000 investment in training an officer is respected. If other municipalities and departments want to recruit from our academy, they’ll have to foot the bill.”

“That’s ludicrous,” Sutton said. “The only thing it is going to do is just create an even bigger problem of recruiting than ever before. What they are demanding is indentured servitude for police officers.”

As criticism mounts over St. Louis’ sullied record on law enforcement, residents continue to call for a change of course. So far, even as they deter police applicants, city leaders are undeterred.

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