By Erin Heffernan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS — St. Louis police have been understaffed in districts covering downtown and large parts of northern St. Louis compared to other areas of the city, according to a nonprofit-funded analysis.
The Center for Policing Equity, a nonprofit focused on partnering with public safety agencies to help spur reform, commissioned a five-year review of St. Louis police workload data. and presented the city with a potential model for directing more 911 calls to civilians.
In an analysis released Wednesday, the Center for Policing Equity, or CPE, recommended that St. Louis police reorganize officer assignments to create a more equal workload across the city. He also proposed the creation of a civilian position housed outside the police department, a community service officer.
Community services officers could take about 18% of all calls to the police, including reports of accidents and parking violations, without a police officer. Such a move, if passed by the administration of St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, would greatly expand the city’s current limited use of civilian responders who show up in addition to police on some calls.
One of the report’s planners, Hans Menos, vice president of the CPE’s triage response team, said the nonprofit has partnered with St. Louis police and the Jones administration for providing its analysis and recommendations free of charge.
Menos said the CPE team quickly found that debates over officer assignments and workloads were a top concern for residents, officers and city leaders.
“Everyone had their own diagnosis,” he said. “Some people have argued that there are too many cops. Many have said there are not enough, and others have said there is a divide as to who is a policeman. We think we can use data as a lever for social change, so we wanted to get to the bottom of it.”
The CPE hired a consultant specializing in police workforce reviews, Matrix Consulting Group, to review St. Louis call data from 2016 through 2020 across the department’s six police districts.
The department had nine districts for decades starting in the 1960s. These were reduced to six under Chief Sam Dotson in 2014 in an effort to balance the workload and reduce crime. But Matrix found “significant disparities” in service levels and call volumes in the data it examined.
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The report found officers in Districts 4 and 5 were the most understaffed. District 4 covers areas around downtown and the northeast part of the city, including Jeff-Vander-Lou, Old North St. Louis, and Fairground Park. District 5 includes the Central West End area as well as northern St. Louis neighborhoods such as The Ville and Wells-Goodfellow.
In these districts, “the calls are piling up. The women and men of the police department cannot devote as much time to these calls for service as they would like,” said Rob Kenter, senior manager of the team. CPE Triage Response Team, at a March 29 town hall with Mayor Jones.
Matrix concluded that the most overstaffed areas were Districts 2 and 3, which together cover large parts of southern St. Louis.
According to the report, approximately 40% of patroller shifts are expected to be spent on activities other than responding to calls for service. This leaves time for “traffic stops, building checks, business interviews, foot patrols and community engagement”, or what the consultants have called “proactive time”.
The report found that agents in Districts 2 and 3 still averaged at least 30% proactive time, while there were periods in Districts 4 and 5 when agents spent virtually all of their time on duty responding. to calls.
Matrix also concluded that for call volumes recorded over the past several years, the ministry’s patrol division has been understaffed overall.
Including temporary reassignments, about 380 of the department’s 1,200 officers were assigned to patrols, Matrix found. The consultants concluded that if calls are not reduced — for example, by diverting some to civilians — the city will need about a 15% increase in the number of officers working on patrol.
The report praised the police department’s 2020 average response time of 3.7 minutes to the highest priority calls for emergencies such as shootings, calling it an “exceptional level of performance.”
In a written response to the report, the police department said it had already begun adjusting its district staffing due to the Matrix findings. But he said he could not share details of how patrol staff levels might have changed between districts, citing a confidential “plan of operations”.
“We agree with these findings in the sense that we understand the needs of citizens and the number of service calls may differ from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the city,” the department said in a statement. writing. “It has also been important to analyze the types of service calls to determine the number of officers to assign to particular areas. We continue to analyze recommendations from the Center for Policing Equity, as well as regular analysis of our crime analyst, to most appropriately deploy resources in the interest of public safety.”
In recent years, some city aldermen have pushed for a reorganization of the police workforce.
A 2020 bill passed by the council’s public safety committee recommended creating seven police districts, reducing the number of commanders to be added to patrol staff, and merging the St. Louis Lambert Airport Police Department run by the city in the police department.
“We have too many white shirts doing absolutely nothing,” the bill’s sponsor, Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, said at the time, referring to the department’s top brass and complaining about the lack of officers in his neighborhood of North St. Louis.
The bill had the support of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, but it did not move forward after St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden opposed the measure. He said a change in police districts would require a thorough workforce analysis.
Menos said city leaders asked the CPE to also commission analysis on how the city could fulfill a central promise of the mayor’s public safety agenda: send “the right person” to the call.
Matrix identified 19 categories of calls and recommended that the police department could “partially divert” to unarmed civilians who would be called community service officers.
According to the report, the types of calls that can sometimes be handled by civilians included accidents, parking violations, illegal dumps, assistance to motorists, overdoses and “cold” burglaries, robberies and complaints. for fraud reported hours after a crime with no suspects at the scene.
The report predicts that 40% to 80% of each of these types of calls could be sent to civilians, based on comparison data from five California police departments that use civilian responses. These cities include Fremont and Roseville.
The consultant recommended that the city initiate a program with 15 community service officers.
St. Louis already has a limited Crisis Response Unit, sometimes known as Cops & Clinicians, which launched in January 2021. This unit typically pairs police officers with trained civilians to handle mental health crises and homeless issues, rather than diverting calls from officers entirely. .
Jones said she hopes to expand the city’s civilian response program to eventually include civilian-only responses to some calls.
The mayor’s spokesman, Nick Dunne, said in a statement that the mayor is reviewing the report’s specific recommendations.
“St. Louis has already seen how successful alternative response programs like Cops & Clinicians and 911 Call Diversion reduce the burden on agents by connecting the right professional to the right call,” Dunne said. “We are reviewing the CPE’s findings alongside the Department of Public Safety to find opportunities to make meaningful changes that help officers focus on their primary job: solving violent crimes.”
CPE’s Menos suggested that in addition to releasing officers, the recommendation could potentially reduce the use of force by limiting interactions with armed officers.
“The idea is how St. Louis can create a system of care versus a system of punishment,” Menos said. “When we send armed people with powers of arrest to every issue, we are sending a punitive response. That’s because that’s all we have as an option now.”
The nonprofit previously released a report in September showing that from 2012 to 2019, St. Louis police officers used force against black people at 4.3 times the rate of whites per capita in the city.
Jeff Roorda, business director of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said police union leadership is reviewing the report, but added that he hopes any significant changes in policing will include discussions with rank-and-file officers. .
The College of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee will hold a virtual meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the CPE report. The meeting can be viewed on the city’s YouTube page. Residents can find a Zoom link for the event at www.stlouis-mo.gov/events.
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