The Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood, on the city's northwest side, will get some extra attention from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for the next week.
"Our focus for the next week while we're here is addressing the violence -- specifically, the gun violence -- that goes on in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood," Police Chief Sam Dotson told the 35 officers who lined up at in a Schnucks parking lot on the neighborhood's border. "What I want you to do is be highly visible. It's not about the number of people that we arrest, it's about making the neighborhood safer. One of the ways we do that is by letting the criminal element know that we're here and we're not going to tolerate this kind of behavior."
The Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood is the latest policing "hot spot," a term that refers to supplementing the officers that are usually assigned to the area with police from city-wide divisions such as traffic safety and special operations. Dotson would not discuss exact numbers, but said the additional manpower is more than double what the 5th District usually sees.
While crime in Wells-Goodfellow is down overall compared to last year, it's been the site of eight of the city's 44 homicides this year. Another 23 people have been shot, which Dotson said is often a precursor to homicide. Much of the violence, he added, is retaliatory in nature.
"I would describe it as individuals that do not have conflict resolution skills, [who] have availability to firearms and weapons, and are quick to escalate to that level," he said.
Ald. Jeffrey Boyd, who represents the neighborhood, applauded the additional manpower. Law enforcement alone can't solve the problems of Wells-Goodfellow, he said, but the added police presence can help jump start the process.
"It jump starts it by the good people in the community seeing the police," he said. "They're excited, thinking 'Finally, we have some attention given to our neighborhood, maybe crime will go down.' People will start to feel a little safer. And some of the bad people will start moving elsewhere or modifying their behavior."
Boyd said he hopes the added officers can get things under control in the neighborhood before summer arrives.
Officers involved in the patrols are also being asked to help the neighborhood in other ways, such as telling families in need about social service organizations that can help. In a show of support, James Clark, with the community development organization Better Family Life, attended the roll call.
The aftermath of hot-spot policing
Dotson told the assembled officers that hot-spot policing has a residual effect. In College Hill, which was the site of the first big push shortly after Dotson became chief in 2013, crime is still down 40 percent. In Tower Grove South, the site of the most recent hot spot, police arrested 42 people on a variety of charges, including assault and burglary. The department said it recovered three guns.
But arrests don't do any good if the courts don't help out, Dotson said.
"The rest of the system has to engage in a meaningful way," he said. "I would like to see a process that keeps people safe. Right now, I don't see a process that's keeping people safe."
The police chief has been highly critical of the decision by the city's circuit court not to set up a so-called "gun docket," where specific judges handle nothing but gun cases. Dotson is also upset by what he sees as light sentences handed down for gun crimes.
And then there's the question of what happens after the extra police are gone, as Ald. Antonio French raised in this tweet.
— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) May 7, 2014
"There's always concerns about displacement," Dotson said. "This isn't a zero-sum proposition. We continue our maintenance programs throughout the city."
The hot spot in Wells-Goodfellow will last for seven days. Dotson said he'll review the city's crime statistics before determining where to next send the additional resources.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann