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Sam Dotson

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Sam Dotson during a Post-Dispatch Editorial Board meeting on Monday, February 4, 2013. Photo by Huy Mach/ hmach@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS • The police chief's first-ever live Q&A session on Twitter garnered questions and comments today about everything from drones to crime statistics and the need for a civilian review board.

Dotson tweeted nearly 80 times during the session from noon to about 1:30 p.m. according to his Twitter account, @chiefslmpd. Nearly 50 people tweeted questions and comments to him.

About a dozen of those individuals' tweets centered on using drones in police work — an idea Dotson has floated since the summer after announcing that he filed an application with the Federal Aviation Administration.

In an interview following the live chat session, Dotson said the FAA has given the department the first green light toward obtaining a permit to use the devices, by granting it permission to file a formal application.

Department leaders still are filling that out. Dotson estimates the earliest drones could be circling would be in 12 to 18 months, should the government approve it and the public approve of the department's policy.

"There were a lot of questions about drones, but a lot of them came from the same people," Dotson said. "I've been slow, methodical and judicious about the drone conversation. We haven't spent any money on them and there aren't drones flying around, but everyone has an opinion about it. It's a conversation we need to have ... and I'm certainly not hiding from it, but I'm still in the process of listening and making decisions on what's the best approach."

Dotson pledged to host public forums on the matter well before any policy is enacted or money is spent on the program.

He also vowed to host another live chat session on Twitter, perhaps quarterly.

He said he was amazed by how few questions centered on crime in the city.

"I thought it was a much higher level conversation, I thought it would be more about my neighborhood or my block or street," Dotson said. "I'm continually amazed by how passionate some people are, and the same people who are interested in drones are interested in civilian review."

Dotson reiterated his support for the idea of creating a civilian board to review cases involving disciplinary issues, such as officer-involved shootings, but cautioned that the creation of such a board is "complex" and must involve many people, including the public. 

Some comments focused on hot-spot policing.

"I was encouraged to see the hot-spot policing message is starting to resonate," Dotson said.

Dotson said he found it challenging to respond to complex questions within Twitter's limit of 140 characters per tweet, and admits he couldn't respond to every question within the time frame.

Some tweets, including a picture of a city police cruiser parked in front of a donut shop, he may have overlooked on purpose.

Others came in after the session ended. Dotson said he tried to answer all of them.

One from an account known as 7th Ward Independent Democrats called Dotson an employee of the mayor and dubbed the entire Twitter session a "community relations event," not a policy forum, and urged those with real police policy questions to contact the Mayor's Office or the Board of Alderman.

Dotson did not respond.

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