Wednesday, December 31, 2014

23rd Annual New Year's Eve Candlelight Service: My Remarks

Twenty-three years ago, we in St. Louis lost a member of our extended family: a young man named Curtis Johnson, who most of us never had the honor to know.

He would have been a full grown man today, making his mother proud, and probably raising a family of his own. But Curtis didn't get that chance, because he was taken from us by gunfire when he was just 22-years old.

Those who have never lost anyone like that cannot imagine what it feels like.

We're here tonight because Jeanette Culpepper took that terrible feeling, that unimaginable pain from the loss of her son and tried to make something good come from it. She went to work and started helping us build a society where sons could not so easily be taken from their mothers. Jeanette Culpepper founded "Families Advocating Safe Streets" and created a new tradition for St. Louis: a New Year' Eve candlelight vigil, held to honor the people we've lost to senseless acts of crime.

Jeanette and the "Families Advocating Safe Streets" never stop working and never stop fighting to raise awareness, to break the cycle of crime and to reduce violence in our community.

This year we remember 159 people too many, whose friends and families are now facing the same unthinkable tragedy as Ms. Culpepper; losing a loved one to senseless violence. I think a lot about those 159 people and their loved ones now. Most, like Curtis Johnson, were very young when they died. Some were just children. I think about what lives they could have led, and most of all - because it's my job - I think about what might have saved those lives.

I think about Juliette Cleveland-Davis, age 46, who was shot right in front of her three grandchildren as she walked with them on a summer evening. She was caught between two groups of young men trying to kill each other. I think about 32-year old Zemir Begic, beaten to death with a hammer by a group of young boys while driving home.

The sad truth is we've taken a step backwards recently, and there's no denying it. We lost more people to violence this year than last.

Looking ahead to the future, we see millions of people who are now awake and alert to the problem of violence, and the preciousness of life. Our fellow citizens are more focused than ever on the need for public safety, and in the long run, that focus will make it easier, not harder, to address the problems which need to be addressed.

Of course Jeanette doesn't need anyone else to tell her that lives or white, young or old, rich or poor. She's been teaching us that for years, and clearly, this world we live in needs to be reminded.

But, then…I don't have to explain this to any of you, because you're already engaged and involved. You never stopped paying attention. Like Jeanette Culpepper, you cared long before it was fashionable or popular to do so.  

That's why you're here, and that's why I'm so grateful to know you are.

The root word for “vigil” means "wakefulness" or "keeping watch".  It's from the same root that we derive the word “vigilance”, which we use in expressions like "eternal vigilance is the price of freedom". Well, I happen to believe vigilance is also the price of public safety, because I believe the best antidote to crime and violence is a citizenry that's wide awake and aware of the problem, and willing to work together in a search for solutions. In other words...people like you.  

Thanks for keeping the vigil. Let's all pray for a happier new year. ​

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving: My Message to Employees

The last several months have been a busy and emotional time. Everyone has worked hard and performed well in some very stressful situations.

During normal times we would be preparing for a holiday, giving thanks and spending time with our family and friends.

This year things are different. This year we are charged with the responsibility of providing the safety for those who call St. Louis home during a particularly trying time in our history.  

Even though this is a busy and unprecedented time, please know that your efforts are producing results.  It's a very old story in law enforcement that you never get credit for what you prevent.  Still, you know and I know that whatever has happened and whatever will happen next, this city is immeasurably safer with you on the job, more than it could ever be without you.  Civilization is a fragile thing.  It takes thousands of years to build and only moments to place in peril.  The people who protect it in those moments are called the police. 

One thing about extraordinary circumstances like these, is that they leave no doubt for what, and to whom, this city should be thankful.  So let me be the first to say what millions of people are rightly thinking.

Thank you all.  Thanks for everything you do, for everything you risk, for everything you sacrifice, for everything you endure and for everything you accomplish. 

During this holiday our time at home will be limited, but I want to take a moment to thank you for the job you do and to wish you and your families a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

Chief Sam Dotson

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Our First Priority

This week, the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office confirmed that a grand jury continues to hear evidence and that they expect a decision on charges for Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson soon. Although I can’t predict the outcome of the process or what may occur as a result of the decision, as the City’s Chief of Police, I can reassure you of the Metropolitan Police Department’s commitment to your safety and your rights.

No matter what the announcement is, the department’s first priority is to protect and serve our citizens…and that includes protesters. And we are ready to do so.

Our department has sat down with protest organizers and had valuable conversations to ensure their rights are protected. We have also met with residents, neighborhood groups, other City departments, other police departments, elected officials and business owners to assure them of our commitment to their safety.

We have consistently said the same thing to everyone: While everyone is welcomed to the City of St. Louis to exercise their First Amendment rights and let their voices be heard and their cause advanced, doing so while putting the lives of other citizens or officers at risk will not be tolerated.

So far, unlike Los Angeles in 1992 and Cincinnati in 2001, there has been no loss of life as a result of civil unrest. I credit our officers’ training and the protesters’ organizers for that.

I hope that continues.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Attorney General Koster's Roundtable on Representative Policing: My Remarks

I’d like to thank Attorney General Chris Koster for bringing us together to talk about this important topic. The past 50-plus days will be transformative in law enforcement, not just here in St. Louis, but around the world.

Ferguson is emblematic of a problem. Decades and generations of social and economic disparity, years of profound underemployment, lack of educational opportunities, increases in black-on-black crime, a lack of access to affordable healthcare and real mental health services. These are problems that impact large segments of our community, as others have already said this morning.

The narrative Ferguson is writing for our nation and the world is still being written and will continue being written over the next months, but today we have a chance to impact that narrative in a meaningful way.

Discussing race will forever be a difficult conversation in our world and it is especially difficult for a white police chief in a community that is approaching 50 percent African American. However, it is exactly the reason why we should have this conversation, and why we are having it here today.

Communities most impacted by crime need law enforcement the most, but those communities also have come to fear police as an occupying force. In some communities, police have become the face of government because government has failed to provide even some of the most basic needs. This creates a cycle of mistrust and if we want to talk about the cycle, we must first understand symptoms.

Mistrust of the police comes from a very basic level and sometimes occurs because of where someone is standing when they look at the problem. Implicit bias is real and we are working to address it. We all have beliefs and biases that we allow to reach from our subconscious into our daily interactions and create hurdles.

I'll give you an example of “not in my backyard”. I firmly believe economics is key to our region’s growth. With growth and investment comes better infrastructure and better accessibility to all the things we know curb crime: jobs, education, affordable healthcare, etc.

Today, we come together as a region, as a community and as one city to talk about the challenges that we face. We know that linking Downtown through the central corridor to North County to the airport with Metrolink needs to continue to St. Charles and Chesterfield; yet many people say, “not in my backyard”.

Today, we are here to talk about representative policing, however, really limiting the conversation to policing doesn't do the conversation justice.  

The criminal justice system needs to be representative of the community that we live in. When I say live in, I don't mean just where we lay our heads at night. I mean the entire community; where we go to sporting events, where we dine and where we vacation.

Law enforcement agencies must look for qualified applicants; ones that understand their implicit biases, and ones that are reflective of the communities they serve. I think we all agree that qualified applicants are the key. 

We have to be serious about recruitment. For qualified candidates, governments compete with Emerson, Anheuser-Busch, Centene and all the major corporations who pay much, much better.

Two-thirds of the applicants that apply to the Metropolitan Police Department are white and about 30 percent of applicants are black, even though we service a community that's approaching 50% African American.

We look for opportunities to keep our community safer. Opportunities as simple as an armed offender docket, which asks the courts to have specific paths to monitor individuals that hold our communities hostage. Representative policing is not just about the uniform; it’s about justice, safety and the rights we all share.

So while the word ‘police’ has become generic in some conversations, the conversation is not just about civilian oversight or body cameras. It's about having a justice system and a process that works for all…including black, white, male, female, gay, lesbian, disenfranchised, rich or poor. Representative policing is about having a system that works for us; for St. Louisans, for Missourians, and for Americans.

Let’s have a real conversation today, not just about the symptoms that manifest themselves but about solutions to the causes of the symptoms. Ferguson has started a dialogue that has been significantly unremarkable since the end of the 1960's. Let’s really have the conversation.

Thank you, again, Attorney General Koster for bringing us together to make this conversation happen. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gun Violence Press Conference: My Remarks

First, let's face the real unpleasant facts: we're here today because our city has seen 97 homicides this year...along with too many aggravated assaults which could easily have ended up as homicides.

 This increase threatens 20 years of progress we've been making against murder in our community.  Since 1993, we've fought to bring the annual number of homicides from 267 down to 120.

We can't afford to lose the ground we've gained.  Too many people - including police, community leaders, parents, teachers, and clergy - have worked too hard, for too long, and the stakes are just too high.

We also can't afford to ignore the obvious common element in these crimes: nearly all of them involve the unlawful use of guns.

We are a nation of 316 million people with 310 million firearms.  And because of measures like Amendment 5, even some of the most common-sense steps against gun violence face an almost impossible task in overcoming what the lawyers call "strict scrutiny".

But you know who doesn't face strict scrutiny?  The violent gun criminals who routinely get light sentences or probation in our courts.  I see case after case where armed criminals with a proven history of violence are treated with kid gloves.

 I believe in the 2nd Amendment.  I really do.  I believe in it so much, I want to save it from the kind of extremist interpretations that leave no room for common sense.

 There are millions of people in Missouri who, perhaps because they live away from city centers, don't see the gun violence that destroys so many young lives like Lathasha Williams.  But it is not right that those who make our laws should be so far insulated from their consequences.

 Because this is too important, and there can be no excuses: we must all work together to find a solution that lets lawful gun owners keep their legitimate rights WITHOUT sacrificing the right of our children to be safe and to grow up, so they can pursue THEIR own life, liberty, and happiness.


The Police need the help of the community to solve crimes, and community need the help of our elected officials like Senator Jamilah Nasheed and Mayor Francis Slay to help fix a system that is broken, a system that allows criminals to prey on our young.  We all must do something now that keeps our children safe.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Recruit Class 2014-01 Graduation: My Remarks

Normally when I speak at graduation, I have the luxury of focusing my attention on the new officers...who sit before you at the optimistic start of their careers. Every one of them has worked hard earning the right to be here, and they deserve to be recognized for it.

But tonight I must temper my usual speaking about some of the serious challenges everyone - including and especially these young officers - must be prepared to face.

For this ceremony takes place under the shadow of two distinct events …one distant and one recent.

The long shadow is that of Officer Nicholas Sloan, to whose memory Class 2014-01 is dedicated.  

Nick was killed in the line of duty nearly ten years to the day, before these recruits began their training.  
One member of the class, soon to be Officer Adam Zeiter, grew up across the street from the Sloan family, and was sponsored in his candidacy by Nick’s father, retired Sergeant Terry Sloan.

I mention this so you will know the dedication of a police officer is not merely symbolic, it’s personal.

We remember Nick because he earned the right to be remembered. We remember him because policing is not just a profession, it’s a family. Nick was a beloved member of our police family, and he was taken from us…as no member of any family ever should be.

The other shadow looming over this evening is the one we all know too well, cast by the recent crisis which began in Ferguson…but which now reaches far beyond the limits of any one city.

The current storm has passed, and our region is calm again…for the moment. But we must not fall into complacency. The issues raised in these past weeks will not  - and should not – go away.

Ferguson has revealed an ongoing distrust, felt by some toward the police. Ferguson has shown that, despite all the progress of the past four decades, we still have much work to do…and much to fear if we don’t do the work right.

The men and women who came together to protest in our streets did so because they share a sense of disappointment in our society. They believe that society has failed to meet some of its most important goals, and they see in Ferguson a symbol of that failure.

We know, on a fundamental level, that they are not wrong. Our society has failed its young people in many undeniable and heartbreaking ways.

When our children look into their future, they should see only paths to success. Too many of them look ahead and see a broken trail covered in dangerous obstacles, with tragedy waiting at its end.

Even now, in 2014, there are too many people who feel, and have reason to feel, that the main institutions of society are ignoring or working against them.  We know, and we must face the fact…that this is especially true in the black community.

What does that mean, it means…we know there is fear of the police, even in places where the police are most needed.  And we know we must work harder than ever to replace that fear with open communication and mutual trust.

And this is where we must all pray to find cause for optimism. For I can’t imagine any two groups which have more to gain by working together than the police and the African-American community.
I say that because crime takes such a disproportionate toll on the African-American community. Many of the areas in our city which stand to benefit most from further crime reduction, are predominantly black neighborhoods.

And this which is true of crime in general, is especially true of violent crime.

Nick Sloan dedicated his life to stopping that violence. He didn't argue about the color of the people he was asked to protect.  He risked his life – and ultimately gave it – in a struggle to protect everyone from crime and violence.  

These recruits who graduate tonight…they are making the same pledge, accepting the same risk.

Like the 1,300 officers who stand beside them, they are promising to go where they are most needed, and to protect the people who need them most.

They are going out into our streets to work toward a better world, a safer world…a world in which fewer mothers and fathers will ever know the pain that comes from burying a child.

And if that vision is not a basis for unity, I don’t know what is.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony, 1915 Olive: My Remarks

Good morning and thank you all for being here to mark this historic perfectly symbolized by the march we've just taken together, walking from one phase of history into the next.

Today is a moment of historic change for the police department, and it comes at a time of many such changes. As I gathered my thoughts for this event, I started to think back on what's happened in just the past 18 months.

Earlier this year we completed a city-wide reorganization of the department when we redrew the police map of St. Louis for the first time in 50 years. That project - the switch from nine police districts to six - was truly a massive undertaking.  We took the leap forward, faced the risks, and finished the job.

Why did we do that? Why did we shoulder the burden of redistricting when it would have been so easy to stand still and not disturb the status quo? Why didn't we just do the usual thing, of leaving the problem to fend for itself and handing it down to the next generation? We did it, because we understand something very big and very important: we understand that it costs more to live in the past, than it does to invest in the future.

And the district boundaries aren't the only lines we've been crossing lately.  Another key change in recent days is the growing spirit of collaboration between City and County police. You can see this in the merger of some of our specialized units, in joint training exercises, and in shared vision of fairness when it comes to regional crime statistics. In a variety of ways big and small, we've been working together more closely than ever before. I would like to thank Chief Jon Belmar who is here with us this morning.

Again, you may ask why?  Why did we take the risks of reaching across political lines?  Why didn't we just do the usual thing? I'll tell you why again: because it costs more to live in the past, than it does to invest in the future.

So let's talk for a moment about why we're here...

The Police Headquarters at 1200 Clark has stood for close to a century. Even St. Louisans who've never had a reason to visit that building probably know it as the familiar background image in so many live shots.  

1200 Clark was the setting for countless stories and where thousands of police officers began their careers, as I did when back in 1993. A few years ago we had an evaluation done on our almost 100 year-old home, and the result was grim: 70 million dollars to repair, including 20 million in life safety issues alone.And so we started to consider the options. With support and assistance from our friends, we learned it would be possible to acquire and outfit a new, modern office building for much, much less.

In other words, we learned that it LITERALLY costs more to live in the past, than it does to invest in the future.

So the right thing was clear, and that's what we did.  We did the right thing for our police department, we did the right thing for taxpayers and for city government.I'm very proud of the fact that we did it with roughly half of our funding came from a bond issue, with the other half divided between support from our Police Foundation, and asset forfeiture money.  

By the way, in case anyone doesn't know: "asset forfeiture" means that some of the money for this new building came in the form of cash seized from criminal enterprises. Crime in this case really does pay for the region.
This is an emotional moment for everyone who worked in and loved the old building, But the more we think about it, the more we know: the department's true home is not tied to any particular address. It's wherever we are. The Police Department is not a physical object - it's the sum of the people who serve it, and the people it serves. The Police Department is not a place - it's a spirit of public service that follows us wherever we go. 

Because the Police Department is a family, 1915 Olive is simply our new home. A home we are very lucky to have, by the way.  For those making the switch, the improvement in working conditions will be immediate and dramatic.  In almost every way you can think of, this building is newer, cleaner, safer, better.The more modern space will promote a more modern workflow, and a more modern organizational culture.  

We also have room to grow, part of one floor has been set aside to house the future of law enforcement: a real-time intelligence center, which will become the beating heart of a police department that lives, more than ever, by the flow of evidence, data, and information.

None of this is a product of luck.  All of it traces back to the hard work of good people.  The Police Foundation, whose generosity - always impressive. The leaders in city government who supported this massive endeavor from start to finish. The men and women of the Police Department, who gave everything that was asked of them - diligence, cooperation, and especially patience.  

There are several people to thank...

They all did what they did for the right reasons: because they care about St. Louis, and care about the Police Department charged with keeping St. Louis safe.

And most of all because they understand: it costs more to live in the past, than it does to invest in the future.

Thank you...thank you all. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Thank You For Your Efforts: My Message to SLMPD Employees at the Conclusion of Fair Saint Louis

Yesterday brought us to the conclusion of Fair St. Louis 2014.  To the greatest extent possible, this event was characterized by safety, order and efficient public service.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of visitors were able to enjoy the hospitality of this great city, and do what they came to do: have a good time celebrating our nations' birthday.  None of it would have been possible without your work, your skill, your sacrifice and your dedication.

Simply put all did your jobs and did them well.  Despite the enormous challenge of a new location, which required everyone to set aside years of habit and re-think their role in the City's biggest annual detail, you came through and delivered like the professionals you are.

Everyone stepped up in his or her own way: Officers, Supervisors and Commanders of course, but also Dispatchers, Recruits, Planners and other Civilians.  Even those who weren't directly involved did their part, by keeping watch over the rest of St. Louis.

No one who knows you, the men and women of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, would expect any less.

Thanks again and thanks for all you do each day.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fourth of July

This week the United States celebrates its 238th birthday, and our city marks the occasion with we justifiably describe as "America's Biggest Birthday Party", Fair Saint Louis.

 The three-day festival is a truly massive civic project requiring an incredible amount of planning and hard work. The result is a model of public-private collaboration, as representatives of many different backgrounds and interests come together to do something great.

As law enforcement, our job is to preserve public safety, and there are two sides to the coin. We must make the event as safe as possible in practical terms, but we must also help people feel safe while they take part in the fun. We cannot succeed by doing one or the other. We must do both, and be judged by how well we do them.

 At the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, we have many sources of guidance. We have our laws, our policies, our core values, our training and our experience. But today we look back a bit further for our inspiration – all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776 – because that's what this celebration is really about. We remember the words many of us memorized when we were kids:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
 That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that…it is the Right of the People…to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

I can't think of another passage that captures so perfectly the relationship between the police department and the people. We exist by your consent. We are founded on your principles, and organized in forms of your choosing, to serve the purpose of protecting you and helping you feel protected. Thank you to the officers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, law enforcement officers across the country and to the men and women serving in our military. Thank you for your daily sacrifices that allow the people of this country to live in safety and happiness.

That's something we can all celebrate together. So let the spirit of the Declaration guide you this week, as it guides us, and let's help each other have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend.