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St. Louis mayor, police chief tout 'small gains' as overall crime numbers drop, assaults increase

Mayor Francis Slay and Police Chief Sam Dotson at a press conference on January 15, 2015, discussing six homicides in 13 hours.
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Mayor Francis Slay and Police Chief Sam Dotson Tuesday credited a year-old crime prevention plan for a drop in overall crime, including burglaries, in 2016 compared to the previous year, but said more work must be done to reduce violent crime.

St. Louis' homicide level remained unchanged in 2016 compared with the previous year — 188. At the same time, aggravated assaults and other violent crimes were up and property crime was down, according to the latest crime statistics.

St. Louis' mayor and police chief on Tuesday touted an overall crime reduction of 4.1 percent, or 1,072 fewer incidents, in the last year. Compared to the peak crime year of 1993 when the city experienced 173 crimes per 1,000 people, last year saw 79 crimes per 1,000 residents.

"Crime is the lowest it’s been since in the 1960s, even when adjusted to reflect per capita numbers, and has been cut in half over the past 10 years," Mayor Francis Slay said. "We're not trying to sugarcoat everything. We have too much crime in the city of St. Louis, but crime has been dropping overall."

Chief Sam Dotson said one of the "tremendous successes" the department had last year was bringing the number of burglaries to its lowest level since 1947. In general, property crimes, which include larceny and auto theft, dropped 6.6 percent. 

But Dotson said the department is still struggling with "person crime," such as homicide, robbery and aggravated assault. He acknowledged this violence spike is happening throughout the country. 

The city's "stubborn" murder rate saw no increase, he said. But there were 114 more robberies and 116 more aggravated assaults — what Dotson called the "precursor to homicides" — in 2016 than the year before. 
Dotson said next year, the department will focus on these areas through a new Gun Crime Intelligence Center. Part of a Violence Reduction Network, sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department and Bureau of Justice Assistance, it is modeled after a program in Denver that puts more investigators on shooting cases to develop early leads.

“If we can target shootings, nonfatal shootings that happen, we can interrupt a cycle of violence to keep retaliatory shootings from occurring and reduce the number of homicides," Dotson said. "We’ve seen the successes by micro-focusing on crime. We are taking the same approach, and the objective is to provide timely, actionable information to officers on the street."

For example, Dotson said investigators can now use a shell casing database to develop leads within 24 to 48 hours. He said he hopes the program is running by early spring. 

But Slay said one area the city and its police have no control over is the "proliferation of guns." Dotson said he is "disappointed" that Missouri's legislature removed requirements for basic training for gun ownership.

"More people are armed. More people are willing to use their guns more quickly," Dotson said.

Both Slay and Chief Sam Dotson credited the mayor's year-old crime prevention plan for any progress that has been made. Slay said while crime remains "unacceptably high," he said he is encouraged by "small gains" made since he introduced the PIER plan, which focuses on prevention, intervention, enforcement and re-entry measures. In the year since it was introduced, Slay said crime has decreased in 10 of its 15 targeted neighborhoods. 

"That’s how successful strategies have been and not just law enforcement strategies — economics, education, MetroLink, addressing the homeless issues — those are the success stories that we have," Dotson said. "We cannot arrest our way out of this."

To further reduce crime, Slay said he hopes voters will approve a half cent sales tax for economic development that will raise an estimated $20 million. Ten million will go to a proposed north side MetroLink expansion and $5 million toward neighborhood revitalization and workforce development. But, he said, another $5 million will go toward infrastructure and public safety efforts, such as anti-crime cameras, MetroLink security and Real Time Crime Center technology.

Dotson said the recent crime reductions are directly related to the success of the Real Time Crime Center in the last year and a half: recovering more than 1,375 stolen vehicles and making 260 arrests with more than 600 charges. That technology, along with the city's high-visibility cameras, work. 

"The sales tax will be used to invest in those technologies," he said. 

Dotson also said the sales tax money will help invest in technologies and prepare and retain police officers. He noted the department, with 1,187 officers, is at its lowest level of staffing in its history. But he defended Slay's record on funding the police department, saying it has "always been the mayor’s priority."

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @stephlecci