The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is this city's top budgetary priority ' a fact that will certainly be an issue in the coming budget debate at the Board of Aldermen.
No challenge is more important to St. Louis than reducing crime and keeping our City safe. That's why the budget I have proposed funds the police department better than the rest of City government. Since I took office, the police budget has risen from $119 million to $172 million, a 45 percent increase. Next year's proposed budget for the police department is $8 million dollars higher than in the current fiscal year. That is an increase of 4.9 percent, roughly twice the growth for the rest of the City budget. Police officers will get raises and better equipment.
But, even a budget preference does not address an underlying problem completely. The cost of the Police Retirement System is going up by $8 million next year, a 35% increase. The Police Board, the Police Retirement System, my office, and the officers themselves have been working hard to find a solution to the problem of the skyrocketing cost of the pension. Together, we have made progress. Together, we will find a solution. But, until we do, we have to deal with reality. We cannot spend money we do not have. So, the proposed City budget calls for fewer police officers, with the losses coming through attrition.
St. Louis currently has one of the best staffed departments in the nation. And it shows. Through three successive chiefs of police, we have significantly reduced crime. Violent crime and property crime reached 40 year lows in 2011. Crime was down 6 percent last year and is down another 14 percent so far this year.
Even with attrition, we will still have a large police department, which will be deployed more effectively. This "smart policing effort" is being led by Chief Dan Isom and his command staff. It represents solid police work by officers and dedication by the department's civilian employees.
It is a product of close coordination between police, prosecutors, our citizens, and the courts. We have also several new initiatives including hot spot policing, new neighborhood engagement programs, and a new partnership with the criminology department at the University of Missouri St. Louis.
Still the more police officers we have, the better. So, when there are savings from the public pension reforms I am supporting at the Board of Aldermen, I will support using some of it to hire new officers. A failure to pass those reforms ' or concessions to special interests that weaken them ' will, thus, affect our ability to restore police officer positions to the department.