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POLICE

St. Louis police chief unveils plan to reorganize police districts

ST. LOUIS • Chief Sam Dotson promised shorter response times, more balanced workloads for officers and better policing overall when he unveiled a plan Thursday to reduce the city’s police districts to six from nine.

Dotson revealed details before the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee. He plans to present it to the full board Friday and then hold public meetings. The goal is to implement the plan by spring.

With two exceptions, each district will have equal numbers of officers and commanders, and be relatively similar in size. Dotson said two factors drove how his staff drew the boundaries: calls for service and crime statistics.

“I want to police all parts of the city the same,” he said. “Now there will be no inequities between service, and each district will have the resources they need based on qualitative data. Before, the maps were outdated and I didn’t have that confidence.”

The city has been divided into nine districts since 1962. Boundaries among them have shifted at times, but state law mandated nine. Now that the city assumed control of the 1,325-officer department from a state commission on Sept. 1, Dotson said he has the flexibility to make the adjustments.

Right now, each district has from 46 to 79 patrol officers.

Annual calls for service range from 142,273 in the First District to 51,739 in the Eighth, a difference of more than 90,000. Total crimes in categories reported to the FBI ranged from 15,912 in the Third District to 5,509 in the Fifth District, a difference of more than 10,000. The numbers are three-year averages, from 2010-12.

NO JOBS LOST, CHIEF SAYS

Dotson said the proposed changes will narrow those gaps dramatically. Projected from that data, the new Fourth District would have the highest number of calls for service, at 140,260, and the new Second District would have the lowest, at 130,611.

Each of the new proposed districts will have 93 patrol officers, 11 detectives, two detective sergeants, 20 sergeants, six lieutenants and one captain. Dotson said that will leave more commanders in some ranks than he needs, but that no one will be losing a job. Adjustments in the top brass will come with attrition, he said.

The ratio of officers to sergeants also will be more balanced, giving sergeants more time to mentor, Dotson said.

Sgt. David Bonenberger, outgoing president of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, declined to comment because he has not seen the proposal. The union’s business manager, Jeff Roorda, lauded the prospect of a more balanced workload and reducing command ranks.

SOME EXCEPTIONS

There are some exceptions to the manpower tables.

The plan calls for six extra officers in the new Second District, so two can patrol Forest Park 16 hours a day. Right now, various divisions of the police department share oversight of the park.

“There’s been a lack in continuity there,” the chief said.

Multiple car break-ins, robberies and a fatal shooting were among the negative headlines from Forest Park this summer.

Alderman Joe Vaccaro said at the committee meeting that some of his 23rd Ward constituents are concerned that a bigger Second District means officers may be diverted from their neighborhoods to hot spots like Forest Park.

Dotson said each new district will be divided into three precincts of three beat areas each. One patrol car will be assigned to each beat and one sergeant to each precinct. That will leave each district captain with about 25 other officers to act as hot-spot squads, responding as needed to areas where crime is spiking.

“This should improve response times because there will be a more balanced workload,” Dotson said.

The Fourth District will have about 20 extra officers, paid for by the Downtown Business Association.

Dotson said he expects criticism of the plan, mainly from those who might take issue with having as many officers in violent areas as quieter ones.

UNPREDICTABLE TRENDS

But basing district boundaries on types of crime doesn’t make sense because trends are unpredictable, whereas the number of calls for service remain more consistent, said Jerry Baumgartner, of the department’s planning and research division.

“Whether it’s a call for shots fired or a suspicious person, in either case, the potentials for a crime to have occurred are possibly the same,” Baumgartner said. “So rather than carve up the city based on types of crime, we’re looking at the broader scope of demands for police service.”

Ward 22 Alderman Jeffrey Boyd suggested the department should focus on “changing the paradigm,” and get tougher on traffic violations.

“When are we going to enhance our traffic patrol?” Boyd asked.

Dotson said the focus remains on “crime-fighting.”

Reception to the plan seemed generally positive Thursday.

Ward 12 Alderman Larry Arnowitz said: “I think there is a good possibility this could work. We have to give it time, but I like what the chief has planned.”

Baumgartner also suggested that the department consider redistricting with each new census, to ensure the level of calls and crime remain balanced. But, he said, that would not be an easy undertaking.

Dotson agreed.

“A lot of agencies don’t do this because it is so hard and so painful, but I believe it is the right thing to do to make life better for the officers and the community,” he said.

Proposed Police Districts

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson has a plan to compress the current nine police districts into six in an effort to better balance patrols against crime statistics and calls for service. The large map below shows the proposed plan and the small, inset map shows the current districts. Hover over the numbers on the maps for data on calls for service and total crime in each district.

Nicholas J.C. Pistor of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Christine Byers is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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