St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Sam Dotson spoke to The St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Missouri Public Affairs Network (MOPAN) meeting on Friday, July 8th, discussing issues of safety and security in our region, as well as the murder of five police officers in Dallas the night before.
Chief Dotson speaks to the Missouri Public Affairs Network as Chair Leann Chilton looks on
Leann Chilton, MOPAN Chair and Director of Government Relations for BJC HealthCare, asked for a moment of reflection in the wake of fatal shootings of African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as the deadly attack on police officers in Dallas. She called upon Missouri Public Affairs Network to share their policy concerns on safety and security with the group and with Chief Dotson.
After hearing from the Chamber members, Chief Dotson acknowledged, “St. Louis has too much crime,” and noted that cities across the country are struggling with the same surge in violent crime. Pointing out that overall crime has been on the decline for the last 25 years, and that St. Louis has seen the same decline as other cities, Chief Dotson explained that he has to address both the actual crime level as well as the public perception of crime.
Asking, “How do we decrease crime and make people feel safe?” the Chief noted there are two key ways: The first is through police officers and the second is through technology. Officers on the streets make people feel safe and technology allows officers to be more effective.
The Chief also posed the question, “Why are we so challenged by crime in St. Louis?” Two issues he noted were very concentrated poverty and racial segregation. He noted the solution isn’t a policing issue, “The way to address the crime problem is economics.” Forty percent of the crime is in five percent of the block segments. The police can’t arrest their way out of the problem. He also spoke about his focus on outcomes: police work is not about sending people to jail but is about allowing people to be and feel secure in their communities.
The Chief listed off a few of the challenges he faces: As of the start of July, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department was 127 officers short of the 1,300 that they are budgeted to have. SLMPD is on a path to have all vacancies filled by next summer. The hurdles the department faces in recruitment include lower pay than other departments in the region and the fact that a career in law enforcement is viewed less favorably today than it was in the past. Chief Dotson expressed his desire for an additional 160 officers, in addition to the ones currently in the budget. An additional 160 officers would cost approximately $8 million per year.
Chief Dotson also expressed his support for specialized gun courts, remarking, “If we’re going to be serious about crime we have to be serious about gun crime.” In the first six months of 2016 the SLMPD has seized 1,000 illegal guns. He also opposes Missouri Senate Bill 656, which would allow all citizens to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, noting that his officers have a difficult job already and the legislation takes away the training requirement for carrying a lethal instrument.