From the police department to public works, a theme began to emerge Wednesday night during a North County town hall: staffing and funding are major issues when it comes to getting things done.
Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, District 4, began the night by emphasizing the need for collaboration between various St. Louis County departments. District 4 encompasses Florissant up north to Pelican Island and east to Columbia Bottom Conservation Area.
In her introduction, she noted she stands in partnership with the police department and believes the community can see major transformation in public safety by working together.
“We have to take ownership of our stuff and we need to work together, collaboratively, to come up with a solution,” she said, driving home the burden wasn’t just on law enforcement.
Policing issues were the focus of the presentation portion of the two-hour event, while submitted questions focused more on traffic matters, derelict buildings and other issues.
Capt. Tim Cunningham, commander of the North County Precinct, gave a presentation on the latest crime statistics, the precinct’s plan to go from 10-hour officer shifts to 12-hour shifts and what police are doing to address violent crime and rampant gun use.
The acting chief of police, Lt. Col. Kenneth Gregory, took over in August when Mary Barton resigned after 16 months of controversies and strife. He spoke briefly during the town hall event and answered a few questions later on in the night.
“I have a lot of personal stake in North County. I’ve been living in North County since 1974,” Gregory said. “… I hear the gunshots at night. It concerns me just as much as it concerns you.”
Cunningham said the two most common concerns he’s heard from the community are speeding and a lack of police presence in subdivisions, something he hopes to curb with longer shifts that would give officers more time to be present in areas otherwise neglected.
Other concerns were unlicensed vehicles, commercial vehicles in neighborhoods, illegal parking, derelict vehicles and unlicensed businesses in restricted areas.
Throughout the presentation the captain made it clear these law enforcement issues are a daunting task to solve with the resources they currently have.
“Staffing and recruiting and retainment is a deep conversation right now,” Cunningham said.
Carl Becker, in charge of the St. Louis County Division of Human Resources, spoke about the government’s effort to fill the 75 officer vacancies in the department, a number anticipated to increase to about 100 early next year because of things like expected retirements. The St. Louis County Police Department has funding for 972 sworn officer positions.
“So, as you can see by those numbers, we have quite a challenge ahead of us with respect to recruiting,” Becker said.
He said before recruiting, the department needs to focus on retaining the officers it does have.
“One way to do that is through pay, and I’m very happy to say we’ve had great support from Councilwoman Webb and the rest of the county council with respect to pay,” Becker said.
He said the department must also continue to treat its employees well and mentioned the new wellness unit for officers established by the agency to help them cope with on-the-job trauma.
“Like I said, this is a great police department,” Becker said. “…They’re not only great officers. They’re great people, and I’m proud to be able to work with them and represent the police department.”