Friday, January 24, 2014

Redistricting Marks a Historic Moment for the Metropolitan Police Department

This weekend is full of nostalgia and marks a historic moment for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. 

On Sunday night, the men and women who work the night watch and patrol our streets while we sleep will report for duty for the last time in the nine existing police districts. These districts have been in place for over fifty years and Sunday will be the last night of their boundaries.

The nine districts have been with us longer than our most senior employee. No active officer can remember patrolling our streets before the present nine district system was created. Our newest officers, who have only been on the streets for two weeks, will be the last of our employees who will have assignments in all nine districts.

Because law enforcement is a business where children often follow in the footsteps of their parents, there are police families who have served multiple generations here, under the same patrol map we used back when the president's name was Kennedy.

And now, after 50 years, that's about to change.

Monday morning at 4:00 a.m., our Department will begin the transition from nine police districts to six. At 7:00 a.m. when the men and women report to roll call, they will report in a city no longer bound by nine districts but organized into six. Those who began the week with business cards marked "District 9", "District 8" or "District 7" will suddenly find themselves holding a collector's item. 

I am excited about the new district boundaries. The redesigned police districts will be more fully staffed, more streamlined, more efficient and more precisely balanced in terms of calls-for-service and crime numbers. The new system more readily lends itself to our core strategy of hot-spot policing. The transition has given us an opportunity to re-assign key personnel and give the new districts more cohesive and well lead management teams.

And yet for all the history-making significance of redistricting, the impact on the public will be so minor, I doubt most people will even notice. 

Even though redistricting is a big event, the transition itself will be relatively uneventful.  When it comes to service and protection, there will be no time out. All police functions will continue without interruption. Even as the district numbers on the side of our cars change, our core values - Leadership, Integrity, Service and Fair Treatment to All - will remain constant.

The Department always strives to combine the best of tradition with innovation and we are always driven to carefully manage change. The nine district model was a great tradition, which served its purpose well for five decades. But even as we are guided by the past and inspired by our traditions, we need not be limited by them. The time has come for us to retire one tradition and begin another. The new six district model is the right one for St. Louis, both in its present and its future.

In every way that counts, this is a solid step forward for the City of St. Louis and for the Police Department which never stops working to make it safer.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: My Remarks

Last week as I was preparing for this holiday, I spent a little time re-reading some of Dr. King's words, and listening again to some of his speeches.

As always, I was struck by the awesome power of his gifts…the way he never failed to find the right sentiment, expressed in the most perfect words, carried by the most captivating voice, backed up by the most inspiring courage.

And just look at what he did with those gifts. 

Just look at what he accomplished - a man with no formal authority, a man with no official power, a man who was harassed, oppressed, and threatened at every turn, a man who was murdered before he reached the age of 40. 

But he did more in his short life as a private citizen than most elected officials do in theirs. And that's exactly why, today, Dr. King's legacy outshines that of countless presidents, senators, governors, justices of the court, generals of the army.

While they merely served America, Dr. Martin Luther King did something better: he changed it. 

And he did it all without violenceLincoln is a hero because he won a Civil War. Dr. King is a hero because he prevented one. 

As he said while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964: "Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

He didn't just start a revolution, he changed the way revolutions happen. 

Now every movement uses his methods and tactics. All around the world, people who care about civil rights know his name, and admire his example.

I certainly do. The other day I came across these words, from one of his most famous works, the Letter from Birmingham Jail.

He wrote: "I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

Reading that again made me realize the magnitude of Dr. King's legacy.

In just 50 years, we've gone from being a country where the police targeted Martin Luther King, and locked him behind bars…to being a country where police chiefs celebrate his birthday every winter.                          

That is what real change looks like.

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Monday, January 13, 2014

2013 Crime Statistics

In my last post, I mentioned that the official crime statistics for 2013 would be released today. Looking over the final report, St. Louis is safer now than it was 12 months ago…significantly safer.

Let's break down the numbers to get a closer look. First, total crime is down by 5.4 percent. What does that percentage mean in human terms? It means our City experienced 1,512 fewer crimes in 2013 than it did in 2012. It means that for each day last year, St. Louis had an average of four fewer crimes per day than the year before.

But not only is crime down, it's down in the right places. Our priority target for crime reduction has always been violent crime, or "person crime" as it's called in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting guidelines.

How did we do in terms of reducing violence last year? Violent crime is down by 10.3 percent. To put it in human terms again, that means St. Louis had 583 fewer violent crimes in 2013 than in 2012   It means 583 people were saved from the pain and suffering of becoming a crime victim. 

The way I see it, the fact that violent crime went down at almost twice the rate of total crime means this Police Department has its priorities straight. We're going after the worst offenders and trying to prevent the worst offenses, and we are having success. Reducing violent crime will continue to be our focus in 2014.

Robbery is down 18 percent. Aggravated assault is down 11.3 percent. Burglary is down 13.7 percent. Homicide saw an increase of 7 more murders last year than in 2012, but even that hard-to-control category remains down by 12 percent when compared to the previous five-year historical average.

In 2012, the violent crime rate for St. Louis was 17.7 incidents per 1,000 people. In 2013, it has fallen to 15.9 incidents per 1,000 people. That's how crime numbers are usually expressed - in terms of incidents per 1,000.

Every day I continually remind myself, one crime is one too many, one victim is one too many. Even if we never get to zero, the numbers clearly show that we're moving in the right direction.

To view the complete 2013 Crime Statistics, click here.
To view the 2013 Crime Statistics press release, click here.

NOTE: The FBI recently expanded its definition of forcible rape, causing nearly every jurisdiction that participates in UCR to report an increase in 2013. We won't be able to properly compare rape statistics until the end of 2014, once the expanded definition has been in place for two full years.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Opinions are Easy, Reality is Tough

Although I don't often agree with him, I'll give Mark Reardon his due. He's good at what he does.  He knows how to provoke discussion and keep people entertained.

Unfortunately, being a successful entertainer does not necessarily make someone a good crime reduction strategist. That takes years of acquired knowledge and experience, and even then, there are no sure things.

A few days ago, Mark decided to dabble in my profession, by tweeting, "Maybe @ChiefSLMPD and @MayorSlay could learn something about reducing crime from the police chief in Detroit…" His tweet then linked to a news article about statements made by Detroit Police Chief James Craig, suggesting that increased gun ownership might help reduce crime in his city. 

Since Mark is a big believer in the value of plain, honest talk, I'll state my point plainly and honestly and directly to him.

 Mark, you’re wrong on this one. 

According to a story in the Detroit News on January 3, 2014, Detroit looks to have achieved a 7 percent reduction in violent crime for  2013. That is great news for the Motor City, because that 7 percent represents real, flesh and blood people, spared from the pain of victimization. 

There's just one problem with Mark's theory. During the same time period, the decline in violent crime for St. Louis is 10.3 percent!  (The official stats for St. Louis will be released next week.)

Using the most recent data, published by the United States Justice Department – Federal Bureau of Investigation – Criminal Information Services Division’s, Crime in the United States, 2012, Detroit has a violent crime rate of roughly 21.2 per 1000 residents, whereas in St. Louis, it's several points lower at about 17.7 per 1000 residents.  

Since 2006, St. Louis has achieved a nearly 50 percent crime reduction in our city.  Detroit has also experienced a crime decline in those years, but perhaps not quite as dramatic.

So really Mark, which city should imitate which? The answer is each city has to develop solutions that work for it and there is no cookie-cutter approach, there is no silver bullet.

Bottom line! Mark Reardon's twitter feed may be entertaining, but that does not mean it contains any compelling evidence to make me stop believing what I and the overwhelming majority of my fellow police chiefs believe, more guns does not magically give us more safety.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year: Reflecting Back & Looking Ahead

It's hard to believe a full year has passed since I started this blog. I started this journey as Chief of Police on January 1, 2013, and it just seems incredible that my first anniversary is already here. I guess time flies when public service is what you do for work and fun.

Since blogs are meant to express personal reflection rather than simply hard news, let me take a moment to look back on the major events of the past year, and to look forward at some of the challenges which remain ahead for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

The first and most important thing to say about 2013 is that our strategies have had an impact in terms of our highest priority: reducing crime. When all the data is counted and reported, the past year will show about a 6 % reduction in overall crime compared to last year, with notable specifics including about a 10 % reduction in violent crime.

I always think context and history are important and New Year’s day is always a time to reflect:

In 1993, Bill Clinton was President, Freeman Bosley was Mayor in St. Louis. A gallon of gas cost $1.11, a gallon of milk S2.86 and a first-class stamp 29 cents. The City suffered the largest number of homicides in its history – 267 – and there were over 8,100 aggravated assaults.

In 1999, Bill Clinton was still President, Clarence Harmon was Mayor in St. Louis. A gallon of gas cost $1.17, a gallon of milk $3.32 and a first-class stamp 33 cents. The City’s homicide rate had dropped to 130 murders. Aggravated assaults dropped as well to around 4,500.

In 2013, Barrack Obama is President, Francis Slay is Mayor in St. Louis.  A gallon of gas costs around $3.10, a gallon of milk $3.46 and a first-class stamp 46 cents. The City’s homicide rate continued to decline to 120 murders. Aggravated assaults dropped as well, to around 3,100.

Unfortunately when it comes to the most serious crimes, such as homicide, no decline is ever big enough. For even though the trend is down dramatically - from 267 homicides in 1993 to 120 this year - the fact remains: one murder is one too many. And we must always remember that no victim is a mere statistic. Take one of our city's most recent victims - 51 year-old Clara Jean Walker, her life cut short by a stray bullet, her family deprived of a loved one, her acquaintances robbed of a friend, her city impoverished by the loss of a good citizen. We remember her as a name, not as a number.

We see that overall crime is down almost 50% since 2006. Our city is getting safer, step by step, and year by year. But that progress is not automatic, nor is it guaranteed and we have a lot more work to do.  Success depends on hard work, not only from officers and employees of the police department, but from a veritable army of civic partners and engaged citizens. As we enter 2014, the Department's number one priority will be reduction in crime and stemming the tide of violence. 

And even though the year certainly ended with progress, it did not begin without incident. Just two weeks into January, we were tested by one of the most serious threats in all of a police work: a school shooting, which took place at the Stevens Institute of Business & Technology downtown. Events like that have been known to leave behind dozens of victims. But I'm able to say that, with the help of a combined public safety response, the incident at Stephens ended without any loss of life.

Things got tough again in February, when we experienced a spike in violence in the College Hill neighborhood. Just as the Stevens Institute shooting was a test of our school shooting tactics, so was the College Hill violence a crucial test of our hot-spot policing strategy. We used intelligence led policing to direct our efforts, and applied a highly focused surge including both uniformed and unmarked resources. It worked. We wanted to curb the violence College Hill, and that's what we got.

Throughout the spring I spent a lot of time working on one of my main objectives: improving communication inside and outside the police department. One part of a Police Chief's job is to act as a steward for the organization's memory, recalling its most painful lessons, and paying tribute to its greatest heroes. Last May I got two opportunities to do just that, once when I spoke at the annual dinner for BackStoppers (a charity dedicated to helping the families of fallen first responders), and again at the Memorial Breakfast (a yearly event to honor officers killed in the line of duty). Both experiences humbled me, and served as a powerful reminder that in our business, the stakes are always life and death.

The arrival of summer brought its own reminders, when during one bad week in June we faced seven shootings with more than a dozen victims. Short term crime spikes happen randomly sometimes, but knowing that fact doesn't make it any easier. Especially not when, as a Police Chief, you often feel the odds are stacked against you in the form of a) an endless supply of available guns, and b) a judicial system that keeps putting gun criminals right back on the street without interrupting the cycle of violence. If there is one thing that became crystal clear to me this summer, it's that we need action…on both fronts.

Happier news came in August, when the department received Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) coveted Tri-Arc Award, an accreditation standard held by only a handful of other law enforcement agencies in the entire world. Seven years of hard work went into earning that award, and as Vice-President Biden likes to say, "it was a big deal".

September was an important month not just for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, but for all of Missouri law enforcement. Why? Well for one thing that month brought us Attorney' General Chris Koster's Urban Crime Summit, an unprecedented and incredibly productive meeting of the top leaders in the law enforcement profession. September also saw the attempted override of the Governor’s veto of House Bill 436, an extreme and extremely dangerous piece of legislation that would have impacted law enforcement and the safety of residents.

Of course not every battle ends in victory, and I'm sorry to reflect that we suffered a serious setback this fall when a majority of judges rejected a proposed armed offender docket (often simply called a gun docket). This proposal would have allowed the courts to fast track cases involving gun violence, and would have been an important step forward in public safety. Disappointed though I am to see such a good idea rejected, the fight is far from over. As long as I am Chief, I will campaign for a gun docket that is meaningful and I along with the Mayor, Circuit Attorney and many others will work aggressively to make it happen.

It was during the fall of this year that transfer of control of the SLMPD from the State to the City of St. Louis was completed, after a hiatus of 153 years! The citizens of St. Louis are again fully in charge of the police force charged with protecting them. During the same busy season, we undertook the department's first city-wide redistricting effort since 1963. The process, which included a mechanism for public commentary and feedback, resulted in a streamlined proposal that will take the department from nine police districts down to six, with a gain in efficiency that allows us to put more cops on the street, in precisely the places where they are most needed. At the same time we are forging ahead with our plans to relocate Police Headquarters from its current setting at 1200 Clark to a modern office building at 1915 Olive. 

By this time next year, the organization will not only have a new structure, but also a new home, a new look, and a new culture of efficiency. It will, however, have the same core values - Leadership, Integrity, Fairness to All, and Service. It will also have the same goals: Keeping People Safe, Helping People Feel Safe, and Communicating Effectively.  And perhaps most importantly, it will depend on the same friends and allies who've been there for us all along: our officers, our employees, and the hundreds of thousands of engaged citizens who work with us to give St. Louis a better future.

Thanks to all of you, and have a Happy New Year.