Friday, October 18, 2013

Redistricting

There are few things more basic to the Police Department’s operations than the manner in which we divide our city into police districts.  More than just lines on a map, the district boundaries have a profound impact on things such as leadership, organizational structure, staffing, available resources, budgets, response time, neighborhood identity and radio traffic management.

Since the last major district boundary change over 50 years ago, the Department has followed a model of nine patrol districts equally divided among three patrol areas.  When that arrangement began in the 1960’s, it worked just fine for a city with 750,000 residents and upwards of 2,200 sworn police officers.  Yet as we all know, times change and circumstances change with them.  The city now has 320,000 residents and around 1,250 sworn police officers. 

From every crucial point of view – customer service, officer safety, organizational efficiency, etc. – the old nine-district model no longer makes good, practical sense and there is now a pressing need to change it.

Fortunately for us, the needed changes are not difficult to see.  Over the last nine months, the best and brightest from our department have been working on a plan to redistrict our city. They have put hard work and thoughtful consideration into a meaningful plan. The time has come to reorganize our patrol districts in a way that reflects the current reality. 

The solution is a transition from nine districts to six, in a way that preserves the three-area model. Our city will still have a North Patrol Division, a Central Patrol Division and a South Patrol Division.  Under the proposed changes each of these divisions will contain two districts instead of the current three.

The new boundaries have not been drawn arbitrarily.  A careful study of calls for police service has been done to create new district boundaries. This was a data-driven analysis that scientifically and fairly apportion police resources throughout the city.  Freed from the constraints of an outdated system, officers will be strategically sent to the places where they are most needed.  This, along with the staff efficiencies gained by consolidated command structures, would mean more officers on the street for longer periods of time.

And most importantly, the ever-improving technique of hot-spot policing will combine with the new patrol plan to make sure officers are deployed more strategically than ever before.  We’re not just talking about more police presence on our streets.  We’re talking about a police presence that’s smarter, better and more effective.

Of course we understand it’s not all about numbers and tactics, it’s also about change.  The citizens of St. Louis have had 50 years to grow attached to the old system and any change will naturally come with questions.  That is why we’ll be providing a forum, not only to explain the proposed changes to the public, but also to gather feedback from anyone with an opinion to share. As the process develops and as specific plans begin to take shape, information will be shared with all those involved.

Why is that important?  Because as I’ve said since my first day as Police Chief, the art of public safety isn’t just about making people safer, it’s also about helping people feel safe and sharing the reality of the city we live in.

I wouldn’t support redistricting unless I knew it was carefully explored, developed and achieved all of our goals. Quite simply, this is a good idea and the time has come.



To see Chief Dotson's Redistricting Presentation, visit www.slmpd.org and click on story 4.