One of the great things about living in St. Louis is the amount of time we get to spend in our streets and parks. It seems that every weekend has its share of races, local and regional parades, festivals, and concerts. The music, food, and pageantry of these events lend a richness to our lives. They also set the City apart from the suburbs, bring people into the City who would otherwise never come here, and --in some cases - generate revenue that supports private good causes or ends up in the General Revenue fund.
It is a fact, however, that special events consume police and fire service resources. And it is also a fact that although both departments annually budget personnel and time to keep residents and visitors safe at special events, a large public safety presence in one neighborhood sometimes means a smaller presence in all the others.
Police Chief Dan Isom has asked that we start (notice those italics, please) thinking about whether the City can recoup some of the cost of making people safe at public events. I applaud him for doing so. We will need to make sure we do so in a way that is generally fair, that makes sense for residents of our City, that shares regional costs with the region, and that does not put worthwhile celebrations out of business.
St. Louis has one of the largest per capita police departments in the country and the most fully staffed Fire Department in the state, but neither department can meet every demand we place upon it. The Police Board has begun discussing the sorts of double or triple standards that might be necessary if some groups are required to contribute more - or something - to the costs of keeping themselves and their guests safe. The Fire Department will begin the same discussion.
The playing field is already complicated. Some groups already pay something for the additional security they use. Some groups pay nothing - or not anywhere near what public safety requires. Some events generate tax revenues, some do not. Some make a profit for themselves, some generate money for charitable causes. Some are entirely open to the public, some charge a fee to participate. Some are clearly of regional interest, some draw only their neighbors.
It will be a complex discussion that will have to balance a number of very important public interests. But, I would certainly rather have to deal with the challenges of having too much to do in the City, than not enough. Wouldn’t you?