A new police force tasked with assisting communities all over St. Louis County is officially on patrol.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, along with St. Louis County Police Chief Colonel Jon Belmar, announced Tuesday that the St. Louis County Police Special Response Unit (SRU) is beginning operations in Northwoods.
The new unit, funded by the public safety sales tax Proposition P, will emphasize community policing and feature two-officer patrol cars going out on the beat throughout the county.
“This unit will work to suppress street-level criminal activity and to target persisted offenders who victimize our residents throughout our county,” said Stenger, who added that the new unit is a different and innovative approach and not just more officers.
“But beyond these traditional law enforcement activities, the Special response Unit is also employing innovative community policing techniques to develop relationships with community leaders as a means to promote safe, healthy, vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods.”
The SRU is currently made up of 16 officers but will expand to 24 officers and five commanders by the end of the year, Belmar said.
Belmar said funding the unit will cost “well north of $85,000 a year.”
“Those kind of dollars didn’t exist prior to Prop P, and when we constructed Prop P, when we thought about it, when we envisioned it, we plugged this in,” he said. “I worked with the county executive and we said two-man cars are important. But we knew the SRU unit was going to be vital for us.”
The unit will be deployed throughout the county wherever they are needed, allowing the beat officers responsible for their neighborhood guardianship to stay on their beats while the Special Response Unit fills the gap.
Belmar said the unit has already been dispatched to a call regarding a missing Alzheimer’s patient and called the SRU a “long-time dream come true.”
“This really gives the county police department the ability to do some things you might not expect to hear — problem-solving, community engagement. These officers are trained in de-escalation” Belmar said. “It is going to make the difference in maintaining St. Louis County as the safe place to live and work.”
The officers will not only fight crime and target persistent offenders, they will also try to improve interactions with citizens and address quality of life issues.
There will be a Community Advisory Board made up of citizens that have ongoing communications with the SRU commander. The board will aid in the long-term sustainability of the unit while monitoring the community’s law enforcement goals.
The key to the new approach is in its emphasis on the community environment rather than just suppression of crime. The Special Response Unit’s policing model and on-going vision to combat crime focuses on four tenets, according to a press release issued by Stenger’s office:
- Prediction (forecasting models and concepts to strategically target crime and criminals),
- Prevention (crime prevention and victimization reduction),
- Pursuit (active enforcement and apprehension of criminal offenders), and
- Partnerships (partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and partnerships with the community in which we serve).
Proposition P, which voters passed in 2017, is a half-cent sales tax with proceeds going to public safety in St. Louis County.
Prop P has already funded the hiring of more police officers (60 with a goal of 120 by December), improved police pay, a contract for Body Cameras, mobilizing more two-officer cars, and expanding officer training on topics such as peaceful conflict resolution.