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Byers' Beat | 'They're touting 200 homicides as a win': St. Louis police union president reacts to drop in crime and in cops

St. Louis police saw 178 officers leave the department in 2021 and about a 25% drop in homicides.
Credit: St. Louis police officer

Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.

ST. LOUIS — Homicides in St. Louis went down last year, and so did the city’s police force.

Compared to 2020, the city saw 26% fewer homicides. That’s 263 killings in 2020 compared to 195 in 2021.

Yet, this happened while the number of men and women in blue declined, too.

In all, 178 police officers left the department in 2021, according to the police pension system.

Normally, between 75 to 90 officers leave in a given year, according to St. Louis Police Officers Association President Jay Schroeder.

“That’s about 10% of the workforce,” Schroeder said of 2021’s numbers.

The mayor's office said the police department's authorized strength is 1,224 commissioned officers, and it is down 99.

An officer sent me a picture snapped inside the department's uniform supply section showing a pile of blue uniforms stacked about 7 feet high and at least 10 feet wide. 

He captioned it: "A visual of what the SLMPD mass exodus looks like."

In the fall, there was a waitlist on retirement badges because they ran out.

City officials have been publicly touting a drop in the city's crime in 2021. So what does the police union president have to say about the city’s decline in crime despite the exodus of officers?

“They’re touting 200 homicides in a city with 300,000 people as a win,” Schroeder said. “We are still the most dangerous city in the country.”

It wasn’t always that way – and not in the too distant past.

“Ten years ago, we were right around 100 [homicides],” he said.

In 2011 and 2012, the city logged 113 homicides.

“Back then, we were right about at full strength,” he said.

So, where are the city’s officers going?

The police union has kept an informal tally on as many officers who have left since 2021 as possible. They were able to ask 160 officers where they were going once they left the department.

Almost half, or 74, said they were going to work for another police department.

Only 24 – or 15% – said they were leaving the profession altogether, Schroeder said.

So, how well is the department keeping up with the departures in the academy? Apparently, the police department doesn’t keep that information.

The police department referred me to the Department of Personnel for the answer. I’m still waiting on a response.

Schroeder said the rank-and-file doesn’t really count recruits as officers until they’ve had 90 days on the force.

That’s because once they graduate from the academy, they must spend three months riding with a Field Training Officer before they can patrol on their own.

In a couple of weeks, 10 recruits are expected to graduate. That’s two fewer bodies to backfill those who have left already this year. Another 24 are still in the academy. And another class of 30 is starting at the end of the month.

A new trade for Don

Sgt. Don Re is among the dozen or so St. Louis officers who have left the department this year after 23 years and 11 months.

He has maintained a strong social media presence and wrote a blog called "Don of all Trades" for years. His post about the 2015 shooting of a 6-year-old boy in the O’Fallon Park neighborhood was one of the most touching pieces I’ve ever read.

He titled it, “A senseless death.”

It got a lot of traction locally as well.

In it, he shared the raw emotions he felt following his experience on the call, and a picture of another officer’s bloodied uniform who held the dying child in his arms.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran Re’s post in its entirety on a full page of the paper.

It brought attention to the mental health issues officers face after going through trauma.

"I'm looking at my own six-year-old's homework folder," Re wrote, "and wondering if this dead boy has a homework folder in a backpack never to be turned in again. Will his mom see it when she gets home and cry? Did he have a lunch packed for the next day that will still be in the fridge this weekend to remind his family of a lunch that was never taken to school? Did he go to kindergarten? Will somebody have to explain to his classmates that they'll never see this little guy alive again and why?"

He ended the piece with a simple thought.

"This is all too sad and it needs to stop. Someone please figure out how."

That year, the city logged 188 homicides.

Now, he’s taken a gig with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office investigating consumer protection issues. 

There, he will find a connection to his police career – Alexis Bohannon. Her husband, Tamarris Bohannon, was fatally shot in the line of duty in 2020

RELATED: "It seems like we lose the best ones. The really good ones,” | Hundreds gather to pay respects to fallen officer Tamarris Bohannon

Re was one of his academy instructors.

His widow is now a victim advocate for the attorney general.

In his role in the office, Re will decide whether consumer protection cases deserve criminal charges or are civil matters. He holds a law degree, which obviously will serve him well in this role.

Just sad to see the city lose another one of the good ones.

Jeff Roorda running for Senate

Jeff Roorda announced this week he will be seeking the Republican nomination for State Senate.

Roorda has been a lightning rod as the business manager for the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association.

Former Mayor Lyda Krewson refused to allow him in her office.

This won’t be his first foray into politics, but it will be his first time as a Republican.

Credit: KSDK

As a Democrat, he served as a state representative for Jefferson County from 2005 to 2010 and again from 2013 to 2015. He ran for the Missouri Senate in District 22 in 2014 but lost to Paul Wieland, a Republican from Imperial.

In his campaign announcement, Roorda wrote: “Every day I turn on the news and see what Washington liberals like Nancy Pelosi, AOC and Cori Bush are doing to our nation, and I see how important it is for us to fight back at the state level.”

Should he win the seat, Roorda said he still plans to continue his role with the police union.

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