CITY HALL — To St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, one of the biggest things holding back the city police department is all the job openings. There are too many vacant positions on the force. But he insists the police officers now working are keeping the city safe.
On Thursday, he told the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means Committee that there were 135 vacancies in the department.
“Certainly this is the one area I believe has totally constrained how we do business,” Edwards said. “We have to have a terrific cadet program that can put people in the pipeline. We have about 90 folks in the (police) academy.”
But Edwards also said the vacancies should not be an excuse for poor performance.
“I expect these officers to go out every day and do their level best and try to keep our city safe,” Edwards said. “I believe that our city today is safer than it was in ’18, than it was in ’17, than it was in ’16.”
Edwards rejected the idea that the city is dangerous because of a national model that shows St. Louis has had more murders per capita than anywhere else. “We are 12 homicides down today versus this time last year,” he said.
“I know that 50 percent of the crime in the city of St. Louis has a drug next to it. I know that 15 to 20 percent involve domestics. I know that another 15-20 percent will involve people that know each other. So if you don’t fall into one of those threat categories, then you’re going to be relatively safe,” Edwards said.
Edwards is one in a series of city department directors the Ways and Means Committee is interviewing as it reviews the 2019-20 budget proposal.
The Department of Public Safety’s proposed budget of $288.6 million is by far the largest category in a proposed general fund budget of $519.3 million.
The police department’s proposed budget of $167.6 million is the largest in the public safety department. Others include the Fire Department, the Corrections Division, Building Division, Excise Division and City Emergency Management Agency.
Turning to the Corrections Division, Edwards defended the much-criticized Medium Security Institution, also called the Workhouse.
A small percentage of the 368 prisoners at the workhouse are people who committed misdemeanors, Edwards said. “We have no DWIs, we have no traffic violations, and those misdemeanors that are locked up in our facility are generally going to be filed under the umbrella of domestic,” he said.
Edwards also offered high praise for the fire department.
“If there was a fire in downtown Clayton that was three stories high, the Clayton Fire Department could not fight the fire,” he said. “We’d have to fight the fire. If there is a water rescue in this area, we’ve got to get out, and we have to fight the fire. If something happened on any interstate in the area, it’s the St. Louis Fire Department that has to respond.”