‘Improved’ police districts fail to reflect city realities

Two weeks ago, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson announced a plan to reorganize city police districts. Following last year’s ballot initiative to return control of the municipal police department to city hands, Dotson was able to reduce the number of police districts from the state-mandated nine districts to what he feels is a more reasonable six. However, these new districts will be organized such that total crime per area is roughly equivalent, as opposed to prioritizing district size based on the number of violent or drug crimes. Such a system fails to target crimes that truly harm the St. Louis community and unnecessarily allocates officers and resources to areas that are already safe.

J.B. Forbes | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | MCT

St. Louis police officers block off Cherokee Street on Thursday, June 13, 2013, at the scene of a murder-suicide. The municipal police department will undergo a reorganization process following last year’s ballot initiative to return control of the department to the city of St. Louis.

Under the new system, St. Louis will be divided into six policing districts, each with 93 officers, 11 detectives, and more than 20 sergeants and other upper brass. Each district will respond to a projected 15,000 to 140,000 calls. While this system is certainly an improvement over St. Louis’ old system, in which some police districts faced three times as many calls as other others over the past three years, it also means that equal police resources will be allocated to preventing crimes like speeding tickets or traffic violations as opposed to more serious offenses.

Dotson’s plan districts St. Louis according to projected total police calls, which the department argues are a better indicator of need and a better predictor of future crime than police calls for a specific type of crime or even where actual crimes occurred.

While there is some logic to this districting plan, it seems far more reasonable for police districts, and therefore the allocation of police officers within St. Louis, to reflect where actual crimes occur, specifically where violent crimes occur. Allocating 90 officers to an area with a minimal amount of homicides and other violent crimes while allocating an equal amount of officers to a roughly equally sized district that hosts the majority of violent crimes in the city seems both like a waste of police resources and a disservice to its residents.

Having 90 officers issuing speeding tickets when they could be trying to get guns off of the street or preventing other violent crimes doesn’t seem like an effective use of police resources. Crime prevention strategies that focus specifically on areas with high levels of violent crime or homicide have proven to be effective in other large cities like Boston or Chicago.

While we applaud Dotson for identifying what were certainly issues with the organization of St. Louis’s police districts, his solution fails to target the crimes that most hurt the St. Louis community. St. Louis consistently tops lists of the most dangerous cities in the country and Dotson’s plan will do little to remedy this problem.

  • Anon

    You have a complete lack of understanding of the new plan. Stick to Wash U politics, not St. Louis.

    • LC

      If the writer does not have a complete understanding of the new plan, it does not follow that she does not and cannot understand local issues or write about them effectively. Rather than telling her to stick to WashU politics, why not explain where she went wrong in her understanding of this plan, praise her for trying to look beyond the bubble, and encourage her to become more educated about local St. Louis issues? That seems, to me, a more productive response.