ON DECEMBER 14, 2012, AFTER 19 YEARS AS A ST. LOUIS CITY POLICE OFFICER, SAMUEL “SAM” DOTSON, III, WAS SELECTED AS THE NEW CHIEF OF POLICE FOR THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS. IN HIS ROLE AS THE CHIEF, HE MANAGES THE SECOND LARGEST POLICE DEPARTMENT IN THE STATE OF MISSOURI AS WELL AS THE DEPARTMENT’S BUDGET.
Chief Dotson oversees more than 1,300 police officers and 548 civilian employees and is responsible for the public safety of 318,000 St. Louis City residents and the thousands of visitors who visit every year.
We recently sat down with Chief Dotson to get his perspective on the local first responder community and discuss some of the challenges and successes he has faced in his first six months on the job.
Q: In your opinion, how important is the relationship between St. Louis City police officers and other first responders, particularly in the medical community (e.g. EMTs, nurses, etc.)?
A: For me, the relationship between our police officers and first responders is two-fold. First, I consider the local hospitals and ERs to be an integral part of a larger, extended family of first responders. When one of our police officers is injured – whether it’s in the line of duty or off-duty – it’s often an emotional, surreal experience for everyone involved. And our police officers are in the ER more often than people realize.
That’s why I take great comfort in knowing that our officers are in good hands at one of the local hospitals, like SLU Hospital. The ER staff at our local hospitals takes these situations very seriously and cares for our police officers like they would their own family members.
Second, I also consider our local ERs to be one of our most valuable partners, particularly when we’re investigating certain cases and need to collect critical information. While they’re working to deliver quality medical care to their patients – which may include crime victims as well as offenders – we’re also working to deliver justice. Time is of the essence during a crime investigation; however, we wouldn’t be able to conduct our investigations without their support.
Q: Can you recall a specific example where the St. Louis City Police relied on medical first responders for support during a difficult situation?
A: Recently, two of our police officers were shot in separate incidents and transferred to a local hospital’s ER for treatment. Fortunately, each officer sustained only minor injuries. However, those sensitive situations can be very emotional for the injured police officer, his or her family, and our larger police family. It helps me to know that we have the support of local EMTs, ER staff and hospital administrators to ensure that our police officers receive the best medical care … period.
Q: What is the City’s police department doing to improve the working relationship and communication with local first responders?
A: I think we have really good working relationships with our local first responders. We understand each other’s roles and the impact we can all play in working together to achieve the best outcomes. Additionally, we never encounter territorial disputes among the police, fire and medical sectors. We, instead, prefer to collaborate to figure out the best way to serve the region, whether it’s during the playoffs, World Series or when someone like the Pope or President of the United States visits St. Louis.
I think St. Louis is ahead of so many other communities around the country. We don’t have to deal with the challenges that come with having fragmented departments. After attending one of the recent national police conferences, I realized that this is an issue that plagues a number of other cities. For example, Boston struggled with having fragmented departments during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings in April. Boston Commissioner Ed Davis talked about how his city and its various departments experienced some setbacks while investigating the bombings and pursuing the alleged suspects.
Q: Since assuming your new role as St. Louis City Chief of Police, what has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced?
A: As the St. Louis City Chief of Police, I work as the CEO of a $180-million-enterprise, and oversee more than 2,000 employees with the ultimate goal of protecting the community. That alone is an incredible task. However, nothing could’ve prepared me for how much the job would impact me on an emotional level. In fact, the safety of our police officers keeps me awake at night. As a veteran cop, I know firsthand how dangerous it can be to protect our community. On the other hand, as the Chief of Police, I am personally responsible for making sure our 1,300 police officers make it home safely every night.
Q: What has been your greatest accomplishment thus far?
A: In 2013, crime in St. Louis City is down seven percent. That’s the lowest it’s been since the 1970’s. I give a lot of credit to hot spot policing, which we know has been working. Although we still have more work to do in terms of reducing crime rates, I’m proud to see the impact we’ve made thus far.
I’m also proud of our efforts to combine resources between St. Louis City and St. Louis County. Every day, we have County residents who travel to the City for work and vice versa. Additionally, County residents visit Forest Park, Busch Stadium, the Saint Louis Zoo, City Museum, Science Center, etc. That’s why we’ve taken a regional wide approach to fighting crime. It’s in the best interest of our City and County residents if we support each other. Quite simply, it’s the reality of the community we live in.
Q: What are your goals for the near future?
A: One of my biggest goals is to redistrict the various police departments in order to create a more efficient model. This will allow us to divide the City based on the needs and crime rates in specific areas. It’s the key to helping us fight crime and balance budgets in both the short term and long
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