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.

1 comment:

  1. You need to rethink your 2nd amendment comments. They show you are an uneducated buffoon with delusions of grandeur.

    For such an insult against honest citizens you need to resign from law enforcement.