Top St. Louis officials want bodyguards

Budget plan contested, would assign guards out of sheriff's office

May 5--ST. LOUIS -- A late addition to the city budget plan calls for hiring two sheriff's deputies to act as bodyguards, and possibly drivers, for a pair of top elected officials.

The two new officers would be added to the city Sheriff's Department for about $27,000 each and would be assigned to Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green.

Some aldermen, who must still approve the allocation, are dubious about spending money to protect individual officeholders at a time when taxpayers are being asked to pay more just to put police on the street.

Still, Reed and Green say the extra security -- a perk of the office that was phased out years ago -- will help keep them safe while they are out in the community.

"There have been threats in the past," said Rory Roundtree, an aide to Reed. "As a citywide, head of the legislative branch, it's important to be protected while in the community."

According to Reed, those threats came when he was previously an alderman -- including a phone call promising to shoot him in the head.

Both Green and Reed already have use of a city car. Reed's office says the deputy could be used as a driver, as well.

Green drives herself but would welcome the extra security "when her job takes her to places that are either dangerous or in the evening," said a spokesman, John Farrell. He added that Green has also received threats in the past.

"Her position as comptroller requires her to be at places throughout the St. Louis region, at all hours of the day and night," Farrell said.

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, which has authority over the budget, said the added security "sounds outrageous."

"I can't wait to hear the justification," he said.

Boyd's ward includes some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city, including one where a police officer was killed last year.

"Why don't the aldermen get a bodyguard?" Boyd asked. "Can we just call the sheriff and say, 'Can you drive us around the neighborhood today?' "

City officials are in the midst of shaping the city's $960 million operating plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

The money for bodyguards was not in the original budget, a thick binder distributed around City Hall last month. It was, however, included in an amendment approved unanimously on April 17 by the city's Board of Estimate and Apportionment -- a panel comprised of Reed, Green and Mayor Francis Slay. The panel signs off on all major spending decisions.

The amendment did not say why the officers were needed or who asked for them -- only that they would be hired at $26,988 each, the starting salary for a city deputy sheriff. That figure does not include the health insurance and pension benefits available to the sheriff's staff.

The two deputies were not sought by Sheriff Jim Murphy's office.

Reed, who was elected board president last year, says he made the request as part of an overall push to add five deputies to the city payroll. The other three deputies, he said, would be stationed at courthouses.

Green's office said that while she welcomed the extra protection for herself, she did not ask for it.

Both Green, in her third full-term, and Reed said the pair of deputies assigned to them would be used on an "as needed" basis, and spend the rest of their time helping with courthouse security.

Slay was initially surprised to learn that they would be used as bodyguards.

In an interview Wednesday, he said he originally thought the deputies would be used to beef up security at the Board of Aldermen.

The next day, a Slay aide, Tim Embree, said the mayor supported the measure, referring to the Feb. 7 shooting rampage at Kirkwood City Hall, where six people, including two councilmen, were killed.

"After what happened in Kirkwood, the mayor was not going to vote against it," Embree said.

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