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After Break, St. Louis Police Reinstate 'Hot Spot' Tactics

Chief Sam Dotson addresses officers on JAnuary 26, 2015
Katelyn Petrin/St. Louis Public Radio

Saying it's time to get back police back into the neighborhoods, St. Louis Metropolitan police chief Sam Dotson on Monday launched the first of three so-called "hot spots" -- or additional patrols designed to combat areas experiencing an uptick in crime.   

For the next week or so, officers from city-wide units will help patrol the Carr Square, St. Louis Place and Old North neighborhoods north and west of downtown. Officers have been told by their commanders to be visible and to focus on arresting people, even for minor crimes.

"I'm a big believer in the 'broken windows' theory," Dotson told the 40 or so officers who gathered at the department's Central Patrol headquarters, just outside the boundaries of the hotspot. "Those smaller crimes lead to bigger crimes. If the criminals feel comfortable to operate in the neighborhood, they're going to operate in the neighborhoods." He encouraged the officers to get out of their cars and talk to residents of the neighborhood.

Focusing on quality-of-life issues does not mean stop-and-frisk, Dotson said. His officers are told they must have a reason to believe that someone was involved in a crime before making a stop.

"This isn't going in and profiling," he said. "This is going in and doing community-oriented policing, making contacts in the neighborhood, identifying the people who are committing the crimes, and then holding them accountable."

Dotson said the problem properties unit will come in after the week of  additional patrols.

"And they're going to leave the neighborhood better than we found it," he said. "We're going to work in the alleys, on the vacant lots, on the streetlights. We're part of this community and we have the ability to impact it. We're going to do our job in 2015."

Tammika Hubbard on January 26, 2015
Credit Katelyn Petrin/St. Louis Public Radio
Ald. Tammika Hubbard (D-5th Ward)

Fifth Ward alderwoman Tammika Hubbard represents the area at the Board of Aldermen. She told the officers gathered at roll call that they "definitely had her support."

"I just want everyone to do the job that they're supposed to do," she said. "Operate within policy, use some good discretion, and just do what you signed up for."

How Well Do Hot Spots Work?

Dotson said the department began preparing for this hot spot well before a violent stretch earlier this month in which six people died within 13 hours on the city's streets. The department has made arrests in all but one of the cases.

"At the end of 2014, we talked about what our first quarter looks like," Dotson said. "The focus always has to be on violence. Aggravated assaults with guns are the key. When we we see pockets of violence, that's where we're going to drive the hotspot policing."

City crime data don't make it immediately clear why the Carr Square, Old North and St. Louis Place neighborhoods were selected. Despite a slight uptick in homicides in Old North and St. Louis Place between 2013 and 2014, crime overall was down by 20 percent or more in all three neighborhoods. And aggravated assaults with guns -- what Dotson has called a precursor crime to homicide -- were also down in all three locations.

The data also show the mixed impact of hot spots. College Hill, the site ofa 2013 hot spot, saw crime drop that year compared to 2012, but it went up again in 2014. And crime was up in Wells-Goodfellow last year, despite a May hotspot that led to 90 arrests.

Dotson remained bullish on the concept.

"It has a lasting impression," he said. "We make arrests, and the people who are responsible for the crimes are taken out of the neighborhood. It takes a couple of days to get into the neighborhoods, to impact crime, and then after we're gone, that impact lasts much longer."

After the 5th Ward, the hot spot effort will move to Frank Williamson's 26th Ward, just north of Forest Park. The final one, in early February, will focus on Dutchtown.

Follow Rachel Lippmann 0n Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.