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.