Sheriff’s deputies in Missouri can make arrests just like police officers. Well, that is, everywhere in the state except in St. Louis. That is going to change quickly, however, because the state legislature passed a law in May that gives St. Louis sheriff’s deputies the same arrest powers as deputies throughout the state. Criminal defense attorneys may be keeping a sharp lookout at the new practices to assure that defendant’s rights are being protected in the transition that looms ahead.
St. Louis has been the only sheriff’s department in Missouri where deputies are confined to providing courtroom security, serving a summons and transporting prisoners. There will be a period of training and certification of individual deputies before they can function in their new capacity. The current Sheriff of St. Louis stated that the department will meet all professional standards met by sheriff’s offices across the state.
One advantage that the new department practices will provide is the right to apply for federal and state funding of operations, training and equipment. The Sheriff stated that deputies are not trying to move in and replace the police as the main enforcers of the criminal code. The issue that does arise, however, is to what extent restraint and professionalism will be a central aspect of the department’s training programs and the outlook of deputies as they go out in the field.
Criminal defense attorneys in Missouri will quickly know if there are problems arising from the addition of a new law enforcement force in St. Louis. Suspects in criminal arrests are likely to report problems and any abuses that occur. Law enforcement and public safety require an attitude of unquestioned professionalism and respect for the public by enforcement officers. Whether this significant change in how law enforcement functions in the community will serve the public well remains to be seen.