St. Louis is one of the most dangerous cities in America. But you wouldn’t know it from the FBI’s tracking of crime statistics. For three months this year, the St. Louis Police Department failed to report legally required crime data to the state. That’s the second time in a year and why the FBI disavowed their own published crime reports. It’s also not the first time – the city failed to report stats for eight months, beginning in December 2021, leading to a 2021 FBI report that reflected only a portion of the city’s crimes for the year.
Unfortunately, these are the least of the department’s problems since state control was turned over to local leadership. The challenges facing St. Louis, and other Missouri cities, are not difficult to see: Weak enforcement of the laws has exploited the structural dysfunction of local leadership, leaving our uniformed and civilian law enforcement underpaid, overworked, understaffed, undertrained, and underequipped. The state of law enforcement in our state is perilous and just one flashpoint could lead to a collapse.
The list of problems plaguing St. Louis, and many other cities, are not hard to spot. The department often doesn’t have enough working vehicles, which are often waiting behind the city’s civilian fleet’s repairs. This leads to officers being overextended, the department understaffed, and less patrols in the community.
Officers are not provided updated training, don’t have the uniforms or equipment they need, and are often asked to pay out-of-pocket to get what they need, waiting months for a dysfunctional bureaucracy to reimburse them.
Mismanagement of the SLPD’s accounting department often leads to annual budgets getting drained by expenses from previous fiscal years, lagging in the system, and depleting badly needed funds from current operating budgets. This leaves the department scrambling to fill budget holes and creating more management chaos.
While the State of Missouri has nearly doubled its annual budget in the last five years, from $28 billion to $51 billion, little of that has made it to our public safety agencies. Compounding the fact that they face unprecedented scrutiny, and an elected leadership more tolerant to criminals, incompetence and mismanagement from their leadership continues to plague the department.
It is well-known that officers are demoralized, feel a lack of support from their local leaders, and are at a breaking point. If, God forbid, another Ferguson or George Floyd-type incident were to occur, our first responders are not prepared to handle the unrest, and many officers would likely walk off the job.
If we fail to act in the best interests of the people we are supposed to protect, we will be responsible for the outcome. It should be the legislature’s top priority to provide the tools –and more importantly the support – our police and civilian law enforcement need to do the job.
It is time to put politics aside and put public safety first. The incompetence and dysfunction putting the people of St. Louis at risk can no longer be tolerated. It is time to act.
Sergeant Donnell Walters, President of Ethical Society of Police and Jay Ashcroft, Missouri Secretary of State