ST. LOUIS – There were two police officers scheduled to work an entire St. Louis police district, but they called out sick, causing a ripple-effect for the entire city.
The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association (SLPOA) said only two officers were assigned to work the second shift (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.) in District 3 on Wednesday.
“Both of them became ill, so it left them with no one left in the district,” SLPOA Business Manager Joe Steiger said.
Steier said resources from a nearby district were utilized to take calls.
“We’ve been sounding the alarm on the fact that we’re way understaffed,” Steiger said. “It’s dangerous for the police officer. Someone is going to get hurt. Someone is going to get injured.”
During the shift shortage, as resources were spread thin, a deadly shooting happened on Osage Street. There were at least three other shootings as well.
Steiger said the department is down approximately 287 officers.
“The city has got to close this gap, they have got to do something different, to recruit to retain,” he said.
An interview request with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) was declined.
SLMPD spokesman Sergeant Charles Wall said the starting salary for officers increased and there’s negotiated pay raises through the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Mayor’s Administration and SLPOA.
“The contract has helped the department become competitive with the surrounding jurisdictions and has even attracted some officers who previously left our agency to return,” Wall wrote in a statement to FOX 2. “We are always looking for dedicated, service-oriented candidates who are interested in joining our department, and we have taken steps to bolster our recruitment efforts.”
Wall confirmed patrol staffing levels were low Wednesday.
“Multiple police officers assigned to this area were sick on Wednesday, which coupled with injury-related absences, resulted in the staffing shortage,” Wall wrote. “Both injuries and illness are common challenges facing police departments, especially given the continued effects of COVID-19 in our communities and the higher risk of injuries faced by first responders.”
Steiger said the department may need to look at the allocation of resources.
“We didn’t have these problems before. It’s gotten worse every year over the last ten plus years that the city has run this police department, and they’ve run it into the ground,” Steiger said.
Police agencies across the country have experienced a staffing shortage.
While the city may have fewer officers, homicides are down about 22 percent from this time last year.
Ethical Society of Police statement
Without enough police officers and civilian employees of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the citizens of St. Louis suffer.
There has not been an emphasis or effort on recruiting to fill the numerous vacant spots within the police department, including both commission and non-commission personnel. It is impacting morale, recruitment, retention and even public safety.
Officers and civilian employees are more than just a paycheck. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. It is time to invest in our communities by investing in our law enforcement and civilian personnel.
As for the situation on Wednesday, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department wrote this, in full, to FOX 2:
“We will not be making anyone available for interview.
Over the past several years, law enforcement agencies across the country have experienced staffing shortages and other employment-related challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as civil unrest and other large-scale gatherings that have placed additional stresses on policing manpower levels and deployment. Similar to police departments across the country, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has been experiencing prolonged staffing shortages in both commissioned and civilian positions. These are not dissimilar to vacancies that have affected private and nonprofit organizations, as well as other government agencies, in recent months and years.
While patrol staffing levels were low yesterday in one of our districts, it is not accurate to state that no police officers were working in that area. Multiple police officers assigned to this area were sick on yesterday’s date, which coupled with injury-related absences resulted in the staffing shortage. Both injuries and illness are common challenges facing police departments, especially given the continued effects of COVID-19 in our communities and the higher risk of injuries faced by first responders. There is no evidence suggesting that this was a coordinated effort, and we continue to have policies in place to monitor sick time usage and address potential issues.
On any occasion when we experience a staffing shortage in one particular area or shift, we have a number of tools available to address this. We are able to offer overtime pay for officers to cover the vacancy, as well as supplemental support units that can be deployed – and redeployed – as necessary to assist where needed. It is not uncommon for police officers to assist with calls for service in neighboring districts, even when staffing shortages are not a factor.
We have these options available in order to ensure, despite any staffing challenges we may face, that we are able to provide continuous and high-quality police services to the residents of St. Louis. Staffing challenges are unfortunately not new to our agency and the dedicated men and women who serve the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the City of St. Louis, both commissioned and non-commissioned employees, continue their hard work which has resulted in an overall reduction in crime this year compared to years prior.
This year we raised the starting salary for officers and negotiated pay raises through the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Mayor’s Administration and St. Louis Police Officers’ Association. The contract has helped the department become competitive with the surrounding jurisdictions, and has even attracted some officers who previously left our agency to return. We are always looking for dedicated, service-oriented candidates who are interested in joining our department, and we have taken steps to bolster our recruitment efforts. Additionally, the City of St. Louis recently allowed for previously experienced officers with a Missouri Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) license to get hired here at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department at a rate of pay with the same years of service as the number of years that officer has served at another agency while maintaining that license.”