Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year: My Message to SLMPD

This week brings us to the end of one year and the beginning of another. For most people, New Year’s Day carries two meanings. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the past, yet also a chance to look ahead and make resolutions for the future.

This ritual should not be limited to individuals alone. Organizations also have a need to reflect and resolve, to learn from experience and to gain focus by clarifying shared aspirations.

The past few years have certainly taught us much, containing more than our fair share of historic significance. The future will certainly test us as well, with a new set of professional challenges to face.

But despite everything, we look to the future with confidence and optimism. The New Year is, after all, a time of celebration. We look forward to it precisely because we know that our challenges, both individual and shared, are well within our capacity to meet.

We know this, because we can see the proof in our past performance.

Just look at what this agency has accomplished - what you have accomplished - even in the face of unprecedented obstacles. When crime tried to break out of a 25-year long downward trend and take control of our streets, you moved swiftly and decisively to contain it. Indeed, only by the grace of your actions has St. Louis been able to limit the increase. Other cities have not fared as well against the nationwide spike in crime.

The fact that you did this at a moment when officer staff levels are at their lowest in living memory is an even more powerful testament to your dedication, talent and skill. Rarely in the field of public safety has so much been owed by so many, to so few.

The fact that you did this without sacrificing our agency's commitment to community outreach is a testament to your decency, your humanity and your sense of kinship with the citizens you serve.

The fact that you did this under the looming menace of terrorism - in all its heavily armed forms, from Paris to San Bernardino to Colorado Springs - is a testament to your courage.

When I reflect on these lessons of the past, I see a clear direction for our future in 2016.

We must keep crime reduction as our first priority. To do this, we must continue to combine the best of what works in traditional policing practices with the most promising of what's next in law enforcement technology.

At the same time, we must support those who shoulder the burden of public safety, by rewarding hard work with just compensation and more officers on our streets.

We must continue to make long-term investments in our community, with outreach programs to connect with our youth and with partnerships to harness the power of civic leadership. Crime reduction has always been a collaborative effort by both law enforcement and the community, and it must be even more so in the years ahead.

Frustrating as it has been, we cannot stop fighting for rational policy and sentencing that fits the crime. We must continue to speak out against a system that makes it easy for criminals to arm themselves, while making it infuriatingly hard to hold armed criminals accountable.

And finally, we must not forget to give gratitude where it is due. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is a model agency, known and admired throughout the nation, directly due to the personal qualities of the men and women who work here. Whatever else you do to celebrate the New Year, please take a moment to reflect on that, and to thank each other…just as I thank you.


Happy New Year,
D. Samuel Dotson III

Monday, December 7, 2015

With Eyes Wide Open

Our department is taking another key leap forward this week, and I think it’s vital for every member to know the details.

The past two years have seen a rapid advance in the use of body-worn cameras by police officers. Law enforcement agencies all over the country, conscious of the need to become more open and transparent, have been embracing this technology as the new standard in public safety.

As we have with so many other trends, our organization seeks not merely to follow, but to lead - as indeed we already have led, in advancing the frontiers of openness and transparency with innovations like the in-car camera.

The challenges of bringing body-worn cameras to an agency of our size are significant, yet I know we are more than capable of meeting them without any compromise to our other priorities. We understand this new technology comes at a cost, but we are committed to managing that cost so it does not interfere with ongoing efforts to raise the compensation of our officers to an appropriate level.

The first step will be a pilot program for supervisors that officially begins with a training session held today. The test program will run for 90 days and involve 3 groups of 24 supervisors. Most body cameras will be assigned to patrol districts, but some will be sent to support units like Special Operations, Mobile Reserve and SWAT.

To get a sense of which devices work best, at least two different camera models will be alternated among the participating sergeants. This will help us determine which type, or which mixture of types, will best serve our purpose.

Those taking part will complete a user evaluation, designed to discover any problems or concerns arising in the implementation process. In the spirit of collaboration with our employees, the feedback from those reports will later be used to revise our policies and inform our strategy ahead of any wider roll-out.

There are, of course, numerous questions still to be answered. Of particular interest at this stage of the process is the body camera workflow process.  What are the best ways to handle tasks like docking the cameras, uploading the footage, tagging and categorizing the resultant files, defining access privileges for the system, and integrating it with I-Leads, to name just a few. At the same time, we know there are also important moral and legal issues to be considered, like how to weigh the privacy concerns of citizens beside the goals of public safety, and how to balance the need for Sunshine Law access with the cost of data storage and retrieval. In many ways, this pilot program will be starting out ahead of the social and political curve, as we wait for legislative authorities to catch up to the questions raised by this evolving technology.

Answering those questions with hard data and real-world experience is one of the main things this pilot program is meant to accomplish.

But it isn’t the only thing. Another equally important reason why we are proceeding this way is not technological, but personal. We want our officers to understand and feel confident in a body camera system, just as we want them to understand and feel confident in any other piece of equipment they carry on the job. The pilot gives everyone a chance to learn about the new technology. This is why we have made body cameras part of our discussions in the collective bargaining process and this is why we will forthrightly share what we learn in the pilot with department members along the way.

We take this step knowing that it will further our mission in at least three crucial ways: first, by capturing evidence and helping us get criminals convicted; second, by reducing complaints; and third, by building greater trust between the police and the public we are sworn to protect. We take this step with our eyes wide open, and with the knowledge that life safety – including officer safety – is and always will be our highest priority.

Friday, October 30, 2015

View From the Start Line

Of all the duties that fall to me as Chief of Police, the one I preformed last night is far and away my favorite.

Why?  Because it was Graduation Day at the St. Louis Police Academy. Today, our police family welcomes a host of new members - not just the 17 men and women who received their badges when they crossed the stage, but everyone who shares the journey with them, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, husbands, wives, partners, and friends.

There is no mistaking the special nature of this occasion. I'm 21 years into my career, but let me assure you the memory of graduation remains vivid in my mind.   There's just no denying the impact of the ceremony. Our training process is carefully designed to teach each recruit as much as possible, but in the end there are limits. The classroom inevitably turns out to be comforting and familiar, compared to the world beyond.

You realize this quickly enough, when you dress in full uniform for the first time, and march into a packed auditorium with the city's leaders watching your every step. Something about this moment makes it all seem real. Swearing the Oath of Office, and understanding the awesome social responsibility it represents, brings that reality even closer.

And yet still, the occasion is overwhelmingly a happy one. Once you manage to start breathing again, you realize that you're ready. You've studied, you've prepared, you've trained, and you've made yourself fit for the next step. More than that, you realize you're eager to begin. You remember why you wanted to become a cop. You think about the people you'll protect, the good deeds you'll do.

You have your entire career in front of you, and everything is new. All possibilities remain open, all obstacles negotiable. You're surrounded by people who love and support you, as new friends and old ones alike wish you well.

It's a great moment in any person's life.

The past year has been a trying one for American law enforcement, with unprecedented challenges and extraordinary events. But for these 17 men and women, it's the year their career dream came to be fulfilled. For them, there is only the way forward.

And that's a good thing, for all of us. Their optimism, their energy, and the freshness of their outlook we'll help us meet those challenges, and I believe we could all benefit by taking a moment to see the world through their eyes.

Congratulations.






Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Prayer Vigil at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church: My Remarks

Today, I attended a prayer vigil at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church. The vigil was held in response to criminal incidents in which fire was set to the doors of six churches in the St. Louis region. The investigation into the incidents remains ongoing at this time and anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 866-371-TIPS (8477). 

I wanted to share my remarks from today's vigil with you-


It's impossible to ignore that this kind of crime aggravates old wounds...old wounds that were never properly or fully healed.  

Fires in churches awaken some of saddest memories in our collective past. Anyone who knows that troubled part of American history must regard these events with utmost concern.

The fact is, when someone attacks places of worship in our community, they attack the whole concept of civil society, aiming violence precisely at the places where people are at their most decent, and their most peaceful.

But whoever it is out there trying to scare us, they have underestimated the power of that decency and the strength of our shared desire for peace.

Whoever this person is, they’ve picked a fight they can't win.

Whatever they think they’re trying to accomplish, they will not succeed.

Our community is stronger than they are.

It's also more united than ever before.

I have always believed in regionalism, in cooperation across political lines, which is why two years ago, we merged our Bomb and Arson detectives with those of St. Louis County.


The result of that collaboration today is that we're going after this crime, not just with the resources of one town or city, but with those of Greater St. Louis.





Friday, September 25, 2015

Judge Orders Criminal to Stop Carrying Gun, Guess What? He Didn’t Listen

I began this blog, among other reasons, because I wanted to share with you stories which otherwise don’t get told.

It stands to reason that if something has the power to shock and upset a 20-year veteran of law enforcement, then surely it must be worth sharing with the public at large.

And let me tell you: once again, I am shocked. And once again, I am livid with anger.

The culprit this time, as it is so frequently, is the stark contradiction between a society that strives to rid itself of violence and a court system that allegedly reflects the values of that society, yet refuses to take action against violent criminals even when the opportunity to do so is placed squarely in its hands.

As I write this blog, I am looking at a report - perhaps I should use the word resume here - detailing the progressive history of a career criminal. His emerging pattern shows more than a tendency to commit crime, it shows a true commitment to lawlessness and a total disregard for the officers and judges who enforce and uphold our laws.

In other words, this criminal history belongs to exactly the sort of felon you'd want your police force to take off our streets. Exactly the sort of hardened offender who needs to be locked up for the safety of all, himself included.

And the police did their part, in exemplary fashion. On Wednesday, two of our officers arrested this man in connection with yet another serious gun crime - an armed robbery. In doing so, the officers risked their lives. They put themselves in harm's way to deliver this dangerous person into the arms of our justice system. It's only reasonable they should expect justice, or at least something vaguely like it, to follow as a result.

But how can they expect justice, when they have no reason to believe even the best arrest, of even the worst criminal, will lead to a meaningful sentence?

When we checked this man's criminal history, it turned out he was already on probation for Unlawful Use of a Weapon. That's right...the armed robbery he had just committed was made possible entirely by the misguided leniency in our courts.

When will judges realize, when will they understand, that the bad guys in our society neither respect that leniency nor fear their light sentences?

When will judges see that the failure to impose meaningful outcome in our courts is making the entire system toothless and helpless, like a sheep in wolf's clothing, growling empty threats against the very real threat of crime in our streets?

The final insult in this case, which you might find unbelievable, is that the judge who granted this offender probation for his previous gun crime thought simply ordering him ‘NOT TO POSSESS WEAPONS’ was enough.

Guess what? He didn't listen.

Guess what else? He's not the only one with a listening problem because judges haven't listened either, as we’ve continuously asked for an Armed Offender Docket.

Let me repeat what I said before, to overcome what must be your stunned disbelief: a sitting judge in an American court room looked down at a gun criminal and thought "perhaps if I just ask him to stop carrying that gun, and then let him walk out of here, he'll just decide to suddenly obey the law and kindly refrain from hurting or killing any innocent people".

SPOILER ALERT: it didn't work.

I have to ask the obvious question: if the penalty for committing crimes like armed robbery and unlawful use of weapon in our society is simply being told, "Okay now, please don't do that again", what are we going to do about even more serious crimes?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why We Do What We Do to Make the SLMPD Great

The Metropolitan Police Department is committed to conducting a fair and impartial investigation into all officer involved shootings. My unequivocal commitment to the citizens of this community is to have a process that is fair, transparent and based on facts and evidence of the law, not speculation.

Friday, the Circuit Attorney announced her intention to conduct an immediate and parallel criminal investigation into the shooting of Mansur Ball-Bey. As Police Commissioner, I support any thoughtful and independent review by interested law enforcement partners. I welcome the Circuit Attorney’s investigation. But I want to be clear, police officers in the City work in some of the most challenging areas and, sometimes, with little support. They do great work and have great skills, extensive training and well-created policies. They are among the best around the country and should receive recognition for their hard work and professionalism. The Circuit Attorney assures me that her comments were not a criticism of the men and women of this Department.

However, some have seized upon a subsequent exchange of statements to the media between the Circuit Attorney and the Police Officers Association to support an insinuation that the Circuit Attorney’s action reflects a problem with our policies, practices and training. Just as I would refute any unfair criticism of Department members, I must refute an unfair challenge to our policies.

To ensure that this Department uses best practices, the Force Investigative Unit (FIU) was created in August 2014. The FIU’s primary responsibility is to investigate all officer involved shootings in the City of St. Louis. The unit was created from a very successful model used by the Los Angeles Police Department. The policies of the FIU were co-written and reviewed by this Department, Professor David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and members of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office. The agreed-upon policies include investigative steps and specific procedures for case transfer to the Circuit Attorney’s Office.

The Department has made the FIU a priority and has invested tens of thousands of dollars to ensure the unit has the best training and equipment available for each investigation and includes highly qualified investigators.

From the unit’s origins, it was agreed that at the conclusion of an investigation conducted by the FIU, the investigative findings are to be referred to the Circuit Attorney’s Office for an independent review. This process ensures a comprehensive and thorough review of each case.

So far, the FIU has completed two investigations into officer involved shootings. The first occurred in the 8700 block of Riverview and resulted in the death of Kajieme Powell on August 19, 2014.  In that case detectives assigned to the FIU began their investigation immediately. Upon completion of their work, the case was handed over to the Circuit Attorney’s Office 182 days later on February 17, 2015. The Circuit Attorney’s Office is currently still investigating that case and is 187 days into their review.

The second case occurred on October 8, 2014, in the 4100 block of Shaw and resulted in the death of Vonderrit Meyers. In that case, the FIU began their investigation immediately. FIU turned the case over to the Circuit Attorney’s Office 58 days later on December 5, 2014. The Circuit Attorney’s Office then conducted their review and released their findings 164 days later on May 18, 2015, and determined there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officer involved.

Given the pace of the Circuit Attorney’s work, a head-start on this case, which has the community’s attention, makes some sense.

However, the Circuit Attorney’s request that the newly-created Civilian Oversight Board (COB) ask for a review of all Police Department policies and procedures by the Office of the Missouri Attorney General makes less sense. That may happen, but the COB, created as an independent reviewer, has not yet been empanelled to even consider whether it wishes to yield the mission the ordinance has given it.

This request creates a spectre that is simply not true. The Department’s policies are consistent with best practices set forth by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).

The Department works under the stringent and demanding processes that the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) provides and has maintained high standards for commissioned and civilian members of the Department since 2007.

In August 2013, the Department became one of only 15 agencies (from a pool of more than 1,000 departments from across the country) to receive the TRI-ARC award. This is given to police departments that have gained accreditation in three areas: law enforcement operations, public safety communications, and public safety training. Very few agencies receive this award and it came only after much hard work and commitment from a dedicated department and compliance with over 2,000 standards and action steps in our comprehensive policies.


CALEA is the gold standard in the law enforcement field and ensures that our policies are up-to-date, progressive and among the best in the country. The men and women who serve the City as officers of the Metropolitan Police Department have met the highest standards of our profession, I am disappointed that this was not mentioned.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Does St. Louis need an Armed Offender Docket?

St. Louis, like many cities around the country, is experiencing an increase in crime and acts of violence, especially gun violence. The number of guns that are used in crimes and the number of guns that are stolen is up.

When we look for ways to combat these increases, the suggestion of an Armed Offender Docket, a dedicated path through the City’s Circuit Court system to specific courtrooms, continually comes up. It’s been suggested by former Police Chief Dan Isom, by Mayor Francis Slay, by Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and by professors from the University of Missouri - St. Louis as a way to better monitor outcomes for individuals arrested for “lesser” charges like Unlawful Use of a Weapon.

Police officers know far too well from experience that these gun crimes are sometimes precursors to more serious crimes. An Armed Offender Docket would allow closer monitoring of outcomes, more accountability, and ultimately, safer neighborhoods.

The fact is that the administration of justice has consequences, some of which are avoidable. Too often, the decisions made by some judges, not all but some, impact public safety in such a terrible way.

Almost every day, reports come across my desk about people who have been arrested while serving probation. I once thought being under the microscope of probation would encourage good behavior. Unfortunately, that is not always, or even often, the case.

This week, Rashad Edwards’ case made that point forcefully.

As a 17-year old, Edwards was arrested for Unlawful Use of a Weapon. His case slowly moved through the Circuit Court system and in April 2012 (over a year-and-a-half after his arrest) and just shy of his 19th birthday, he was sentenced to two years of probation along with guidance from the court to get a GED and continue to work, perhaps part-time due to school.

In February 2014, nearly two years after being sentenced, his probation was extended until April 2017, until almost his 24th birthday. The comments say, “… is hereby extended for a period of 3 years or until 4/11/2017 the extension would allowed (sic) Edwards to successfully complete the conditions of his supervision. So ordered: Judge Margaret Neill.”

Here is the unfortunate reality: Rashad Edwards is not going to get a GED, work or successfully complete his seven years of probation. On July 2, 2015, he was charged with Murder 1st Degree, the most serious crime.

What started in 2010 as a 17-year old arrested for UUW ended in 2015 with an individual almost 22-years old charged with Murder. It ended with an individual who’d been in the criminal justice system on probation since 2012 being charged with murder. It ended with a family losing a loved one to a crime committed by a person who had never faced life-changing consequences.

I am a pragmatist. I know that some judges have difficulty sending young offenders to prison. I don’t envy their positions, but I also know that some judges live in anonymity behind the bench and never see the true outcomes of their decisions. The reality is that judges are as responsible for public safety as the police officers who ride in our neighborhoods.

While no system is perfect, and while there are outstanding judges just like there are outstanding police officers, there is a fix for this one. A man might still be alive if Rashad Edwards hadn’t drawn a judge who put him on probation.

I can’t think of a more compelling case to have an Armed Offender Docket in the City of St. Louis.

(Information about his case can be found at www.courts.mo.gov)