ST. LOUIS – New statistics show St. Louis Police officers leaving the department in big numbers: nearly twice the rate as the past couple of years. Critics cite Mayor Tishaura Jones’ support of police defunding and a perceived lack of support from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney in prosecuting crime, but there’s more to it.
After a FOX 2 report in May about a triple shooting witness in south St. Louis who gave up on 911 after being “on hold” for about 30 minutes, the dispatcher shortage had gotten worse, with vacancies climbing from about 25% to nearly 40%, according to the head of the police officers union.
Starting pay for dispatchers is less than $15 an hour, according to the union.
“Bodies in the streets, nobody answering 911 calls, a completely demoralized police department and nobody has any urgency, any answers, any intent to address these problems,” said Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association.
Ninety-two commissioned staff left the department for all of 2019, he said.
The number was 95 for all of 2020. St. Louis Police now confirm 92 have already left in less than the first 7 months of 2021.
Fifty-eight new officers will graduate from the police academy in August, Roorda said, but the following class had fallen to just 11, in spite of the city’s aggressive social media campaign to lure more recruits.
St. Louis Police Sgt. Donnell Walters is president of the Ethical Society of Police, which represents mostly minority officers in both St. Louis City and County. He disputed the police department’s number of 92 officers leaving, saying the number was actually 82.
Of the officers leaving, 37 left for jobs with other departments, he said.
Police morale in the city was certainly down, Walters said, but pay could be the biggest factor.
“It is the morale but a lot of it is just, the younger officers are coming. They’re getting training from our agency and then they’re going to other agencies,” he said. “We’re almost becoming more of a breeding ground.”
Even though city voters approved a sales tax hike in 2017 to fund $6,000 yearly raises for city officers, pay continues to lag behind other departments.
Starting salaries for city officers are still below $50,000 ($47,815) more than $4,000 below St. Louis County Police, according to the St. Louis Police Officers Association; more than $8,000 below county police in average pay across the board.
‘The accountability has to fall on our Department of Personnel to get us the resources and the funds we need to be a competitive agency,” Walters said.
The Department of Personnel is not part of the city police department.
“We’re losing people who are just hanging it up and hoping they can get a job somewhere else because they’re sick of this nonsense,” Roorda said.
A spokeswoman for Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner pointed to more police scrutiny and demands for more police accountability in St. Louis and across the country as factors.
Mayor Jones issued the following statement:
“Our country is witnessing a national trend of reduction of law enforcement personnel. Our officers are exhausted, and our administration is dedicated to relieving the burden on them by directing the right professionals – like mental health professionals – to the right types of calls.”