4 min read
Posted on 09.06.11
  • 4 min read
  • Posted on 09.06.11

Lawmakers from across Missouri are convening in Jefferson City today to begin a special legislative session. Gov. Jay Nixon has asked them to consider "authorizing the transition of governing the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department from a board of police commissioners to the City of St. Louis."

It is a change I strongly support, along with the St. Louis Police Officers Association, leaders of both political parties in the state legislature, the St. Louis delegation, and ' almost unanimously ' by the residents and taxpayers of the City of St. Louis.

Local control of St. Louis police is an idea whose time ' after 150 years - has come. Should it come to fruition during the special session it will mean St. Louisans will have a greater role ' and more responsibility ' in supporting and helping to direct police services.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department already is a storied and highly accomplished law enforcement agency.

Some people seem to harbor the impression that St. Louis provides bare bones support for local police service. They couldn't be more mistaken. The concentration and scope of police service in St. Louis far exceeds what's provided in even the most dynamic of St. Louis' peer cities.

According to the FBI's 2009 edition of Crime in the United States ' the most current public compilation of national law enforcement data ' American cities with populations of between 250,000 and 500,000, taken together, averaged about 2 sworn officers per 1,000 residents. They fielded about 2.7 law enforcement employees per 1,000 residents ' that is, sworn officers and civilian employees combined.

Larger cities made more impressive showings. Those with populations of between 500,000 and 1 million, taken together, averaged 2.6 sworn officers and 3.3 law enforcement employees per 1,000 residents.

St. Louis, today, has 4.3 sworn officers per 1,000 residents and 6 law enforcement employees per 1,000 residents. That's more than double the concentration of cities in St. Louis population class. That's more than 50 percent more than the concentration of sworn officers in cities with populations of up to 1 million.

Indeed, St. Louis' concentration of law enforcement personnel closely correlates with the per capita concentration in New York City, which had 4.2 sworn officers per 1,000 residents compared to St. Louis' 4.3. Kansas City has roughly the same number of sworn officers and law enforcement personnel as St. Louis. Yet they police a city whose population is more than 50 percent greater than St. Louis' and whose geographic area of 313 square miles is 5 times greater than St. Louis' 62 square miles.

These comparisons, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, have limitations, as do comparisons with national averages. But they show how St. Louis sets a high standard when it comes to police staffing.

St. Louis has maintained police strength over the more than 10 years I have served as mayor, even as the region's economy has been flat and has experienced an economic downturn exceeded only during the Great Depression. With help from police officers, who deferred increases in compensation, the City has sustained staffing rates that outstrip national averages. With support from taxpayers, we have steadily increased a police budget that well exceeds $150 million and accounts for more than one third of the city's general revenue ' even as other city services have cut.

St. Louis has done all of this while investing nearly $10 million in forensic lab improvements and equipment over the past decade, more than $10 million in communications equipment ' and staying current with skyrocketing health care premium costs for police and pension obligations that have grown from roughly $10 million per year to more than $20 million per year.

St. Louis is well positioned to achieve even more effective policing under local control because we financially have stayed the course. And because we have not otherwise been standing still.

We have begun a system of collective bargaining ' one that if executed well will promote smart management and ensure fair treatment of sworn officers.

We brought in IBM, through its Smarter Cities Challenge initiative, for advice on how we can better manage and make more effective a local criminal justice system whose annual costs, when you add in courts, prosecutors, corrections, probation and parole, exceed $250 million.

With the support of the Board of Police Commissioners, this spring I appointed Capt. Sam Dotson to serve as St. Louis' director of operations. Sam, a police commander with an impressive management record, will help ensure all city services are seen through the lens of public safety.

We have, in other words, put public safety first. Our focus has been on basic police service ' and lots of it ' working to maximize numbers and smartly deploy officers on the street.

As we move forward with greater communication in the criminal justice system and local control of the police department, our next efforts must be focused on reinforcing and supporting the police and prosecutors with grassroots citizen involvement ' vigilance, communications, testimony - in the keeping neighborhoods safe and getting (and keeping) criminals off the street.

There are already some good scale-able models in place. I will be talking more about those efforts in the days ahead.