Muhammad suggests more but smaller police districts

CITY HALL – In what he says is an effort to bring police closer to the community, 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad wants to divide the city into nine police districts rather than the current six. 

Under that plan, each district would have its own headquarters, situated within its boundaries.  

“It will improve police response time,” Muhammad said. “It creates more intimate districts.”

The measure also says resources and officers would be divided equally among the nine districts, to the extent the police chief deems “reasonable and appropriate in light of changing community and law enforcement needs.” 

Before 2014, districts had the same number of officers, Muhammad said. He said he’d like to move toward precinct offices.

Right now, the South Patrol, made up of the First and Second districts, has its headquarters at 3157 Sublette Ave. The Central Patrol, made up of the Third and Fourth districts, is headquartered at 919 N. Jefferson Ave. And the North Patrol, which consists of the Fifth and Sixth districts, is based at 4014 Union Blvd.

Smaller police districts might help police to walk beats and focus more on drugs, Muhammad said.

“To be more visible in the community, that’s my goal,” he said.

Alderman Larry Arnowitz, of Ward 12 on the south side, said he would like to see nine districts again. But he said the police were too understaffed to make it work now.

Muhammad’s bill was one of four introduced at Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting that concerned police and public safety. Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed introduced the three others as part of his effort to cut violence. 

One of them would allocate $8 million for the violence prevention alternative program Cure Violence. The money would come from a $23 million budget surplus from the last fiscal year. 

Another bill introduced by Reed would allocate $3.5 million to purchase body cameras for police officers.

Yet another bill would require firearms dealers to report to city police the failure of any background check to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

One bill introduced on Friday that doesn’t deal with police or public safety calls for an election on a City Charter change that would allow more time for the Board of Aldermen to consider the annual budget. 

The bill, sponsored by Muhammad, would require the Board of Estimate and Apportionment to submit a budget proposal to the Board of Aldermen at least 90 days before the start of each fiscal year on July 1.  

Right now, the E&A board must submit a budget at least 60 days before the start of the new fiscal year. That’s not enough time for the board to act, Muhammad said.

The E&A board consists of the mayor, the Board of Aldermen president and the comptroller. That board must approve money matters, including the budget.

Muhammad’s bill would allow the Board of Aldermen to reduce or increase the amount of any budget item and to add new items so long as the budget balances. 

Under the current city charter, the Board of Aldermen may reduce the amount of any item in the budget submitted by the E&A board, but it can’t increase the amount or add new items. 

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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