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Department Calls 'Hotspot Policing' A Success

(St. Louis Public Radio)
The logo of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department as displayed on the side of a patrol vehicle.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department says a month of intensive patrols in "hot spots" throughout the city was a major success.

The department started the Homicide Deterrence Initiative after the daylight murder of former Saint Louis University volleyball player Megan Boken in the Central West End on August 18th. Between August 24th and September 23rd, the number of officers on the street in high-crime areas nearly doubled between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. Most of the additional personnel usually worked a daytime shift - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As a result, the department says, the gun crimes the initiative was targeting - homicides, assaults with a firearm and armed robberies - dropped 68% in those hot spot areas from the previous month.

"Crime was going down even in the non-HDI areas, but crime was going down at a rate five times or more faster in the HDI areas," said University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Rick Rosenfeld, who crunched the data for the SLMPD.

Deputy chief Lawrence O'Toole said officers used a wide variety of tactics.

"Safety checkpoints, high patrolling in these areas; our Rapid Deployment Unit was up there in many of the areas," he said. "It was a zero-tolerance type of policing you hear about."

The SLMPD recently received an additional $250,000 to continue the advanced patrols. O'Toole outlined the following plan for the money:

  • Commanders in the city's three patrol areas (North, South and Central) are evaluating the best way to target crime in their hot spots.
  • Each commander will get about $50,000 to implement those strategies for 30 days, from about mid-October to mid-November. 
  • The department will determine which strategy was the most effective, then use the remaining $100,000 to implement it until the funds run out. 

O'Toole says with the proper strategies, the extra funds could last until at least mid-January, when crime tends to trend downward because of the weather.

Chief Dan Isom says the department has considered permanently moving additional officers to the later shift, but says officials have to make sure it doesn't have negative impacts elsewhere.

"We did have a slight uptick in property crimes during the daytime hours," he said. "We don't know if we had kept this going how bad that would have gotten. The other issue we looked at was response time. It did go up just a little bit."

The police officer's union filed a grievance against the shift change, saying the department's collective bargaining agreement required 30 days' notice. Isom acknowlegded that the change was a strain on families, and says the department will handle the situation differently the next time.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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