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Slay heads to D.C. summit on violent crime as St. Louis heads for 200 homicides

Mayor Francis Slay, left, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson unveil the new Real Time Crime Center at police headquarters.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Mayor Francis Slay will join his counterparts from dozens of American cities in Washington, D.C. this week for the attorney general's summit on violent crime.

His trip comes as the city continues to battle an increase in crime. The latest numbers show crime is 10 percent higher in 2015 compared to the same time last year, though the increase has slowed down each month this year. St. Louis is on pace for about 200 homicides, a barrier it hasn't broken in nearly 20 years.

  "We're hoping that by going to Washington, we'll get some ideas, and maybe some help from the federal government," Slay said. 

The mayor continued to tout a four-part strategy adopted by the city that focuses on prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry.

"There are certainly things that we are doing that we are responsible for, but there are also things that we don't have any direct control over that impact the crime," he said. "The conviction rate is very low — that means we have some issues with people who are not cooperating with police."

Slay repeated a regular criticism of judges in St. Louis, who he said too often sentence someone convicted of a gun crime to probation.

"The other thing is, we need more police officers. we have to figure out how to give our police officers more help. They are working a lot of overtime. They get tired."

Slay first requested 160 new officers last December. He applauded a federal grant that will pay for 15 officers, but funding for the rest remains stalled at the Board of Aldermen. A state Supreme Court decision throwing out red light cameras eliminated one funding source being considered.

Slay said he continues to have "complete confidence" in St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson.

"He is a professional. He is on the job. He understands law enforcement. And as I look around the country, and I look at cities like New Orleans and Baltimore and Milwaukee and Chicago, they're experiencing some of the same things in their cities, and their chiefs are some of the best in the country as well. We need to make sure that we don’t blame the crime on the cops. They are doing their job. Chief Dotson is doing a great job."

But not everyone shares that confidence, and there are signs that discontent is beginning to spread.

Just last week, the St. Louis Police Officers Association blasted a set of what it called a series of "misguided" and "illegal" promotions.

"There are each well-qualified, exemplary law enforcement professionals who were promoted, but we have laws governing the promotional process that simply were not followed," union president Joe Steiger said in a statement. "Perhaps even more alarming, is the sheer number of people who were promoted given this city's violent crime crisis and drastic manpower shortages. At a time when horrendous acts of violence are a daily occurrence, we need more officers on the street and fewer sitting behind a desk."

Alderman Megan-Elliya Green, who represents the 15th Ward south of Tower Grove Park, said colleagues that never would have doubted chief Dotson six months ago are beginning to wonder if his crime-fighting strategy is working. 

Alderwoman Megan Green, the sponsor of the St. Louis ordinance, said lawmakers in special session are spending "taxpayer money to do essentially nothing."
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Alderman Megan Green

"And I think until we really see a strong comprehensive plan that has community support behind it, faith in his ability is going to continue to wane," she said.

For her part, Green said she'd like to see a strategy that moves away from hot-spot policing to "a focused deterrence model, or a hospital-based violence intervention model, where we are linking social services with law enforcement."

Slay said he welcomed the input of any of the aldermen.

"We'll do it, if it works," he said.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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

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