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St. Louis Officials Pledge To Eliminate Racial Disparities In Policing

Police in riot gear line up in front of protesters at the south entrance to St. Louis City Hall.
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
A report that found St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers used force four times as often on Black people than on white people per year between 2012 and 2019.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Public Safety officials said Thursday that they plan to ensure police officers do not use force far more often on Black people than on white people.

A report from the Center for Policing Equity, a national organization that examines police behavior in local police departments, found that, between 2012 and 2019, St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers used force on Black people four times as often per year as they did on white people.

During a town hall meeting Thursday, Jones addressed the report and pledged to eliminate racial disparities in policing. The town hall was the first of three aimed at discussing new Public Safety initiatives and practices for officers.

“The leaders of our city are at the front of a national movement to reimagine public safety and end racism in policing,” Jones said. “A safer St. Louis does not just come from the top, we have to work together, learn from each other and invest in a public safety model that supports our principles.”

The report found that the number of use of force incidents per year decreased 18% between 2012 and 2019. However, during that period, Black drivers made up 65.4% of all drivers stopped, despite making up 47.5% of the city’s population, according to the report.

To address its findings, city officials will work in neighborhoods throughout the city to eliminate racial disparities in car and pedestrian stops, prioritizing and building relationships between officers and residents. They also will work with other city departments and community leaders to improve public safety, officials said.

Public Safety Director Dan Isom said more police training and collaborations between officers and social workers is a priority. He said officials are reviewing the police department training curriculum to help officers better respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

“We also have to do a training for officers to help them understand how do you interact with social workers and professionals in that area,” Isom said. “And then just the natural process of officers just going to calls and working with social workers and mental health professionals, there’s a natural interaction where you learn through practice.”

The town hall comes a week after Jones announced a strategy to curb violence downtown. Jones has said her administration will add 30 officers to downtown St. Louis over six weeks. The administration also established the Downtown Engagement and Public Safety Initiative, a task force of business and community leaders charged with devising ways to revitalize the area and deter crime.

Some local grassroots organizations were critical of the decision to add officers to the downtown area out of concern that more officers wouldn’t lead to safer neighborhoods.

“Our organizations have been supportive of Mayor Jones’s commitment to transforming our City’s approach to public safety,” leaders of the organizations said this week in a statement. “Her commitment to holistic solutions to the problems of violence and other forms of harm — like investing millions of dollars into affordable housing and victim support services instead of persistently vacant SLMPD positions — is to be applauded. But the most recent announcement is not in line with a transformative approach to public safety.”

Jones said the city’s Public Safety Department needs to focus on underlying issues that can lead to crime.

“Every single life lost to violence is a tragedy, both for the victim’s loved ones and our entire city,” Jones said. “Let me be clear, just like crime is an issue that holds back our entire city, so is poverty, so is housing instability, so is lack of access to mental health care. All of these issues converge to create the crimes we see in our streets.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.