St. Louis police chief blames ‘Ferguson Affect’ for drop in self-initiated policing

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) - The best police officers don`t just fight crime, they try to stop it before it strikes.  That might mean checking on something suspicious that`s not part of a regular call.  Fox Files investigator Chris Hayes found the pre-emptive strikes dropped dramatically last year in St. Louis City.

The numbers are down so much, some are asking if that's why the entire second floor of a St. Louis jail is empty. Police Chief Sam Dotson warns not to jump to the conclusion that this is bad.

Dotson said his officers are 'back in the trenches and doing their job.'  He said pro-active interventions are rising again.

Numbers provided by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department show a downward trend, last year, in the number of what`s called Self-Initiated Activity' or S.I.A.

S.I.A. might start with checking to make sure a door locked or stopping a suspicious vehicle or person.  It can lead to stopping criminals before they strike.  The numbers show a high last year of more than 21,000 S.I.A. in March, now down by more than half to about 7,000 in December.

Chief Dotson said, 'Police officers have an intuition. That intuition helps them to determine when to do Self-Initiated Activity.  It does reduce crime.'

Though Dotson warns that the drop in S.I.A. doesn`t tell the whole story.  During a period in 2013, he said crime also dropped along with Self-Initiated Activity.  He added, 'That means police officers` activities were paying dividends. They were stopping the right people. They were in the neighborhoods experiencing crime.  They were doing their jobs and doing it well.'

2014 numbers, as revealed in a graph provided by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, showed crime going up while S.I.A. was going down.  I asked Chief Dotson, 'Does that indicate a morale problem?'  Dotson answered, 'I think it indicates officer’s aren`t in their neighborhoods doing the job.'

He called it the 'Ferguson affect.'  One of the steepest drops occurred after the August, 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown.  Another steep drop in S.I.A. occurred after the Grand Jury decision on November 24th, 2014.  Dotson said criminals felt empowered, while officers felt hampered.  The Chief added, 'That if they went out to do their job and they were forced to use force, that somehow they would be the catalyst for the next round of civil unrest.'

While looking at the drop in S.I.A., we learned there are fewer inmates at the Medium Security jail known as the Workhouse.  It`s such a decrease that the entire second floor is empty.  A Sunshine Law Request answered by St. Louis City showed half the number of inmates in January 2015 as compared to two years earlier.

Dotson said, 'I think what we have to look at the fact crime is the lowest that it`s been since 2006. Maybe that`s why the Workhouse has vacancies. We`re willing to fill them if we need to, but maybe that`s why they have vacancies.'

A Mayor`s office spokesperson had no comment about the Workhouse vacancies, saying there are so many variables it wouldn`t be fair to guess the reasons.  The spokesperson added that alternative programs like drug court could be helping.

Also, SIA is climbing again, Dotson said.  He showed us another graph from a week this month.  It showed an increase of 44% that week.

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