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St. Louis police chief proposes way to rank judges on gun crimes

File photo | St. Louis Public Radio | Katelyn Petrin

St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson plans to develop a new website that would rank judges by how often they give probation to people facing certain lower-level felony gun charges.

"Judges live in a sense of anonymity," Dotson told the members of the city's public safety committee on Thursday. "So I think that it's important that we as a government, not police, not aldermen, but as government, shine a light on what they do in our community." 

Dotson and prosecutor Jennifer Joyce are both harsh critics of light sentences and low bonds handed out to people charged with low-level felonies like unlawful use of a weapon. Both say it put potentially violent people back out on the street and has led to a spike in violent crime in St. Louis.

Thom Gross, a spokesman for the court, said the judges handle only about six new low-level gun felonies a week, and changing how those cases are handled is unlikely to have an impact on violent crime.

New police districts

Dotson also got an earful from aldermen Thursday about the 2014 decision to reduce the number of police districts from nine to six.

Dotson promoted the change as a way to reduce crime, telling St. Louis Public Radio and others that it would equalize workloads among the districts, as well as give commanders more resources to hit their most violent areas.

But alderman after alderman from all sides of the city questioned whether things were changing.

"We had a meeting a month ago, and a captain basically told a room of my residents that when the lines were redrawn in the 6th District, two of the worst neighborhoods in terms of crime were added into that district," said Alderman Chris Carter, who represents four neighborhoods on the city's northwest side.

Alderman Joe Vaccaro said he was seeing the same thing happen in his ward, the 23rd, in south-central St. Louis.

"Since redistricting, we've seen crime increase, we've seen violent crime increase, stuff we've never seen before," he said. "And what you’re seeing in my neighborhood is people leaving."

Dotson repeated multiple times that he was frustrated with the level of violent crime. He said redistricting has led to a more even workload across the city, but additional officers will be needed to push down crime overall, and therefore the work officers have to do.

Bills that would help pay for an additional 160 officers will be introduced at the Board of Aldermen on Friday, but none of the funding sources are guaranteed. 

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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