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Public police, private employer: A St. Louis oddity

Public police, private employer: A St. Louis oddity


ST. LOUIS • The fatal shooting of a teen in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on Wednesday night drew attention to an oddity of city policing:

Sometimes St. Louis police officers are on patrol in city neighborhoods for an employer other than the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

Just as the St. Louis Cardinals pay uniformed police for extra security, so do several city neighborhoods. The difference is these neighborhoods pay private companies for the services of public employees to patrol public places.

They pool their money through assessments or special taxes — and buy the security services from middlemen.

Certain neighborhoods that can afford it can get more St. Louis police.

Not only can police officers wear their police uniforms while they are working “secondary” — they are required to.

It’s a setup that has flourished in St. Louis in an era when the police department has shrunk to about 1,325 officers, a little more than half of its size in the 1970s.

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said the officer involved in the shooting Wednesday was working for Hi-Tech Security. However, the company’s name was changed to GCI Security after Hi-Tech was purchased in 2012.

St. Louis Alderman Stephen Conway, D-8th Ward, said he thought the officer was patrolling for the Flora Place Community Improvement District. When the district was formed in 2007, residents paid a $500 per home annual assessment for security and other improvements. While Flora Place is in the Shaw neighborhood, the boundary of the improvement district is only that street.

Flora Place is a historic boulevard lined with early-20th-century mansions. It’s considered among the exclusive streets in south St. Louis where many homes are valued at more than $500,000.

It was not clear why the officer was outside of Flora Place; Dotson said the question should be directed to GCI, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Gary L. Cole, who had been operations manager for Hi-Tech Security since its inception in 1989, bought Hi-Tech from founder Adam Strauss. Cole now serves as president of GCI Security.

According to information provided in 2012 to the Suburban Journals, GCI Security employs 45 full-time nonpolice security officers, as well as 168 police officers who work for the company part time.

The company, which is located at 1210 South Vandeventer Avenue, operates 24 vehicles as well as bicycle patrols.

Hi-Tech was the subject of a 2009 Post-Dispatch story about private security companies that employ city police officers. Several law enforcement experts interviewed at that time said it was common for urban neighborhoods to pay extra for private guards — but uncommon for areas already paying taxes for police protection to pay extra for a private company to provide more of the same department’s officers.

After the story was published, the police department launched its own investigation into whether some officers were working private jobs while also on duty. The outcome of that inquiry was not made public; the department did not respond to a request Thursday to discuss it.

The newspaper review found that Strauss and other Hi-Tech employees, including two St. Louis police officers, arrested a father and son after a high-speed chase that the Board of Police Commissioners later ruled was improper. The board unanimously stripped Strauss, who was also a part-time Pevely police officer, of his security license. The other two officers were not disciplined.

Strauss started Hi-Tech in 1991 to help the Central West End address a growing problem with panhandlers and street robberies.

Many credited Strauss with demonstrating that visible patrols could improve safety, and other neighborhoods hired the company to supplement regular police patrols.

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