The St. Louis Police Officers Association has issued a dire warning about staffing levels in the department and their potential impact on public safety.
“You have to look at places like Detroit and Trenton to see where we will be if there’s not swift action,” said SLPOA business manager and spokesman Jeff Roorda.
Currently, there are 1,196 sworn officers in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
But Roorda believes that number is actually closer to 1,000 or 1,100 when considering military, maternity or sick leave. 5 On Your Side asked SLMPD for information to confirm that, but did not receive a response.
Add to that, Roorda said, the 100 positions the department cannot fill and the near 80 officers who’ve recently applied to go work in St. Louis County.
He said that leaves the city with a police shortage that makes it near impossible to keep the streets safe.
“The result of being this understaffed is the city is dangerous and lives are lost. It sends a message that the criminals own the city now,” Roorda said.
So what’s contributing to what the police union considers a “mass exodous”?
Roorda said part of the issue is Proposition P.
Last month, county voters approved a permanent sales tax increase that funnels $80 million to law enforcement. More than half, $46 million, is going to St. Louis County Police. The rest is being distributed among all the county’s municipal departments.
The money is expected to be used to hire additional officers, increase salaries and buy new equipment, like body cameras.
Roorda said that kind of financial commitment makes it hard to attract and retain officers in the city. Starting officers in the city also make about $10,000 less than an officer starting in the county. But that difference in pay can be even higher with more years of service.
“There’s no way to change this path without deciding that public safety is our top priority,” he said.
And on the flip side, Joe Patterson, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Officer’s Association, said he’s hearing from city officers all the time.
“They’re calling me about benefits and if their years of service will transfer. They’re curious,” he Patterson said.
That’s why SLPOA, the city’s largest police union, is hoping for additional resources as the city irons out a new budget for the fiscal year.
At hearing before the ways and means committee in south city on Wednesday night, some residents expressed concern about funding for crime prevention and public safety.
“We need officers who are more connected to the community and who are more responsive,” said city resident Kimberly Franks.
City resident Lisa Cagle said, “We just don’t look at the ways we prevent crime in the first place. We think of policing as the back end. And we need to do more on the front end.”
But without more support for officers, prevention and community efforts, Roorda said public safety will be jeopardized.
“We go to only responding to priority calls,” he said.
Newly elected St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson has said repeatedly that funding for police is a top priority for her new administration.
Alderman Stephen Conway, chairman of the ways and means committee, said based on revenue projections, proposed police funding in the upcoming budget is “status quo."