ST. LOUIS – St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones says cutting 98 vacant police jobs and moving that money elsewhere to hire between 15 and 20 social workers was not a rash decision but rather a well-thought-out plan with extensive research.
“We have seen it in cities across the country that this is the right thing to do,” she said.
And to people saying the city needs more police, Mayor Jones says, “We have more police in St. Louis than any other city our size. And has that made us safer?”
Jones says no current officer will lose their job. But Jane Dueker, a legal representative for the police department, says cutting the positions will affect overall safety in St. Louis.
“When you cut vacancies, you’re actually impinging on overtime, which can decrease services that are performed in the street right now,” she said.
Dueker also says using social workers is fine but they can’t do the job of police and can’t go to a call unless it’s first deemed safe by an officer, so it adds to their workload.
“We have to get more officers on the street and I’m not sure what the mayor’s position on it is, it would help to know,” she said. “But I think people believe more police presence will help decrease crime.”
Mayor Jones says statistics show the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department handles more killings per capita than any of the 100 largest departments in the country.
“I’m hearing people want help! People that live in my neighborhood in north St. Louis. They want someone to respond when they call 911.”
The mayor says by using social workers instead of police on certain calls, it will free up officers to do work they were trained to do.
“It happens when you call 911. That operator can triage the call to see what type of help to deploy,” Jones said. “Sometimes an officer may not be deployed at all.”
A program called Cops and Clinicians launched in February 2021, putting social workers in police vehicles with trained officers. They would respond to various calls involving mental or behavioral calls.
St. Louis Police Lt. Commander Sally Panzer leads the program. She’s says it’s been a positive response thus far.
“Good results from community, telling us they liked it,” she said.
Dueker wants to have a conversation with Mayor Jones about how the department moves forward. She says every district and every shift has officers filling cars that are paid with overtime. With no more overtime money, those shifts won’t be manned.
“Officers are exhausted from having to answer every call,” Jones said. “We’re trying to deploy the right pros to the right call.”