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Dotson: Overall Crime Down, Hot-Spot Policing Working

File photo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis police are investigating a You Tube video that show an officer beating a man with his nightstick at a convenience store. (SLPR)

Like many cities around the country, St. Louis is dealing with the ongoing problem of urban crime. Just over half-way through the year, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson says overall crime is down over 11 percent, and violent crime is down almost 6 percent. Overall crime in the city is down almost 50 percent since 2006.

“We have many fewer crimes now than we did just five years ago,” Dotson said Wednesday. With one noticeable exception.

Through July 23, Rick Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist who works with the St. Louis Police Department as an analyst and consultant, said the city has seen nine more homicides this year than at the same time last year.

Dotson said the decrease in crime can, in part, be directly related to recent redistricting that allows officers to better focus their efforts where needed, also known as hot-spot policing.

“In moving from nine districts to six districts, it allowed us to deploy resources in a way we think makes sense,” Dotson said. “Each district has essentially the same workload — same number of calls for service, similar amount of crime, same number of officers.”

“This is a department that has full-throttle embraced the principle of hot-spot policing,” Rosenfeld said. Using real-time crime data, the department identifies where crime is increasing and deploys resources, normally in the form of heavier patrols, to combat crime in that area. “That strategy is the single most effective strategy police departments around the world these days have developed to reduce both serious violent and property crime. I think it is working well in St. Louis,” Rosenfeld said.

Along with hot-spot police, Dotson said he wants to implement a real-time crime center in the city of St. Louis, calling it the “next logical step” for law enforcement. Among other services, it will bring already existing camera feeds into law enforcement’s jurisdiction to give officers a better understanding of real-time crime trends and patters. It also could create an opportunity for more cameras in public areas, or the use of drones.

“I am always sensitive to the privacy issues, but as people move around on public streets and public spaces there is no expectation that they are not being caught on video,” Dotson said. “People are caught on video several times a day.”

The department is keeping half of a floor of its new headquarters building on Olive Street undeveloped to accommodate this center. Dotson said the city is considering putting a bond issue on the ballot later this fall or early next spring that would include funding for the center. Should the bond issue fail, the city also is in talks with Motorola to make St. Louis a pilot program.

Dotson also discussed Amendment 5, which seeks to expand the gun rights of Missouri residents.

“Right now the Missouri Constitution, the United States Constitution protects your right and my right to bear arms,” Dotson said. “The new language goes around, if you will, the conceal and carry process and will allow individuals to present a defense that they have an inalienable right to carry a gun. It will make criminal prosecutions more difficult, it will make convictions more difficult, and it will allow criminals to carry guns justifiably and legally. I am not challenging your right or my right, what I’m saying is this change in the language will … ultimately make our community less safe.”

Dotson and Rosenfeld also addressed a number of other areas, including data search warrants, gun courts, decriminalization of marijuana, red-light cameras and plans for the future.

“I think that we’ve driven so much change over the last 18 months. I want the department to focus this summer on our core mission: reducing crime, keeping the city safe,” Dotson said. “And we’re going to come back in the fall with some new initiatives.”

He said the department will be looking at the next generation of hot-spot policing and what it can do to further partnerships with neighborhoods and communities.

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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