For the first time since the Civil War, the City of St. Louis has full control over its police force.
Shortly after signing an executive order to formally accept control of the department during the final meeting of the state appointed Board of Police Commissioners on Saturday, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the switch will make the police force more efficient and effective.
“We are combining administrative functions and city agencies such as IT, fleet services, facilities management, legal services, human resources and purchasing and supply,” Slay said. “We are combining law enforcement operations such as court house and park security, there’s more to come. We will make city government more effective and efficient. We will save tax payers' money.”
The police department has 1,800 of the city’s 4,500 employees and a budget of $180 million.
Police Chief Sam Dotson said that no one will lose their job while the functions of some city agencies and the police department are consolidated.
“But as we go forward in time, we’re going to look for opportunities to save money, and take that money and reinvest it into public safety in the city of St. Louis,” Dotson said.
Local control will free up resources, Dotson said, and allow the police department to better coordinate its activities with other city services. He highlighted “hot spot policing” as an example, in which officers work to root out criminal activities in targeted neighborhoods and then city services come in to reinforce those efforts.
“We took the health department into the Vandeventer neighborhood to look for lead contamination; We took the forestry department in to trim vacant lots, and clean up vacant lots; We took the building division in to board up vacant buildings,” Dotson said. “I believe this form of governance will create a synergy between the police department and city government like we haven’t seen before.”
The responsibility for managing the police department now rests solely on the mayor’s shoulders, where Dotson said it belongs.
“During campaigns mayors talk about crime, they talk about what they’re doing to keep their city safe,” Dotson said. “Now the mayor of the City of St. Louis is directly responsible for the police department. Not one of five votes, but directly responsible for keeping the people of the City of St. Louis safer.”
Dotson said that he will still post the same monthly reports that he submitted to the police board, which include crime statistics, on the police department’s website.
Last year, Missouri voters approved a proposition that cleared the way for local control after 152 years. Some groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), opposed the ballot measure because they said it did not include a long-sought-after Civilian Review Board and it prohibits access to police disciplinary records. A local representative for the ACLU attended the meeting, but declined to comment afterward.
The transition to local control also means that the mayor can hire and fire police chiefs. Slay said in the past, relationships between police chiefs and mayors could be strained, but he doesn't expect that to be an issue.
“Fighting crime is a team effort and it’s not easy,” Slay said. “If everyone is not working together, the criminals will win. It the city’s history, mayors have sometimes fought with chiefs with terrible results, those days are over.”
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