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New Chief Dotson Will Pursue Civilian Review Boards For Police Department

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

The new chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department says he wants to implement a civilian review board in the city of St. Louis.

Sam Dotson officially took over as chief on Tuesday. The former operations director for Mayor Francis Slay replaces Dan Isom, who retired.

Dotson says the department has a responsibility to be transparent to the taxpayers who provide its $173 million operating budget.

"But it also is not an opportunity to try the officers in public," Dotson said. "What it is to make sure that the department is operating with integrity and as ethically as possible."  Civilian review board typically look at internal affairs investigations and make recommendations on disciplining officers, and Dotson said most uphold the actions of the officer.

The lack of a civilian review board was a main sticking point for opponents of local control.

Dotson says he also wants to create an environment in the department where officers have a chance to learn from their mistakes.

"Really, we need to sit down and ask the officer, if they make an honest mistake, 'why did you do that?'" Dotson said. "Maybe it's a training issue, maybe it's an equipment issue, let's find out what the reason is. But I also want to be clear here - if it's illegal, if it's immoral, if it's unethical, it'll be dealt with as harshly and severely as we can."

Dotson says he also wants to take a close look at the way the department is organized. Since 1960, the city's been divided into nine patrol districts, which are then grouped into areas by region of the city. But the population has dropped 40 percent since then, and Dotson says it might be time to downsize to six districts.

The new arrangement, he says, would give captains more officers to target crime. And the number of commanders would go down through attrition,  freeing up money that can be invested back into the department.

"Whether it’s through increased salaries, additional officers, technology, equipment, those are the things that I want to sit down with the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association, the Ethical, and the leadership and say okay, we have an opportunity, what do you want?" Dotson said.

The president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association said members were generally supportive of getting more officers on the street, but had not seen a specific plan.

  • Tune in to Morning Edition on Thursday to hear a longer interview with Chief Dotson.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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

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