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Bill to rework police divisions changes to put more officers on street

CITY HALL – To put more police officers on the streets, 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad says he wants to reorganize the entire city police department.

A bill sponsored by Muhammad to change the number of police districts to nine from six has been making its way through the Board of Aldermen.

On Friday, he said he would change that bill to require the phasing out and otherwise reduction in numbers of officers with big titles who stay behind desks and don’t get out on the street. During that day’s Board of Aldermen meeting, he asked that the bill be sent back to the board’s Public Safety Committee so he can put forth a substitute. He’ll do it at a public safety committee meeting at 11 a.m. in the Kennedy Room of City Hall.

The revision would change the number of districts to seven from the current six, with four of them basically north of Chouteau Avenue. The department would combine with the police department at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport, and the proposed ordinance would specify how many officers would be in every part of the department.

Muhammad said the revised bill was the result of discussions with police officers, the community, his colleagues and others.

“We cannot only expand districts if we have the same organization setup in place. We have to change the entire department to meet the needs of our city,” Muhammad said. “We have to put more officers on the street. We cannot continue to promote white shirts and have people behind desks.”

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro praised the bill.

“We believe the department is top heavy, that at least when there was state control, there was one major,” Vaccaro said. “Now we have five. That’s over a half million dollars in salaries plus staff, so there’s going to be changes in staffing.”

Spokemen for the police and the mayor’s office declined to comment on the proposal. 

The Department does not speak on matters concerning proposed legislation,” said Sgt. Keith Barrett at the police department.

I don’t believe those changes have been introduced in committee yet, so therefore it would be highly speculative for us to comment,” said Jacob Long, director of communications for Mayor Lyda Krewson. “As you know, the legislative process is often unpredictable, and what’s talked about publicly often doesn’t end up being in a bill.”

The bill calls for total staffing of 2,018, with, 1,417 police officers, 55 police trainees, 427 civilian officers, 56 marshals and park rangers and 63 cadets and part timers. It also sets a maximum number of officers with titles such as captain and lieutenant.

Capping the number of people in certain positions prevents excessive promotions, Muhammad said.

The chief of the airport’s police department would hold the rank of lieutenant colonel and would command a new bureau of transit policing. No officer who now works in the airport department would be forced to work elsewhere.

The combination of the city and airport departments makes sense, Muhammad said.

Within 180 days, the number of city police divisions would change from six to seven. The difference in staffing of police officers in each division would be no more than five. The only difference would be the Fourth District downtown, which would have additional bicycle police.

The new combined department would be known as the Consolidated Police Division, and more commonly by its current name, “St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.”

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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