‘We need to do something now’: St. Louis community group releases report on lack of downtown policing

Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis claims there are not enough police to keep up with the high level of crime downtown.


A community group is calling for more police presence downtown.

Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis released a report Monday night claiming the downtown area is significantly understaffed by police.

The report comes after months of troubling incidents downtown from shootings to fights to large crowds taking over the streets.

Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis is a group made up of residents, developers and business owners all passionate about downtown, who want to see it better.

Chair, Les Sterman, said their report done by volunteers and amateurs matches up with studies done by professionals.

“We know that the police department in general is understaffed, but we really need to pay attention to downtown,” Sterman said.

He said another reason for releasing the report was that many people, including the police department, have suggested the group’s concerns about downtown violence were just a perception and not the reality.

“Frankly, that made us angry, and we thought that was insulting because we live a very different experience here, so that’s when we started to work on it,” he said.

Sterman described downtown St. Louis, where he’s lived for nearly 20 years, as a ‘precious asset for the region.’

“There aren’t many places where you can enjoy a national park in the morning and go to a professional baseball game at noon and have a nice dinner and then go to a soccer game at night and a concert,” he said.

Despite all those positives though, Sterman has thought about packing up his things for a couple of reasons.

“We’ve had now these long-term trends over the last five or six years of criminal activity, growing disorder in the streets, fights, all sorts of problem activities that take place here and that has just grown. It was growing before the pandemic and the pandemic made it worse. It hasn’t gotten better since then, so it’s been kind of a disappointing long-term trend for people like us,” he said.

Several problem activities that Sterman and others with Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis want to see come to an end.

“We need to set aside this notion that we’re helpless in dealing with all of this. There are things we can do. There are things we should do,” he said.

Sterman said by compiling data from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s website and a Center for Policing Equity study done last year, the group released a report Tuesday claiming the downtown area is significantly understaffed by police.

“The statistics tell us that downtown is essentially a high crime area and that the number of police assigned to patrol this area really is not sufficient to deal with the issues that we face,” he said.

According to their data, 25% of all citywide crime happens in the 4th district and downtown experiences 53% of the crime in the 4th district.

While St. Louis police said the department is short 270 officers, they said District 4 has more assigned officers than any other district in the city.

Sterman said while they’ve seen more police presence over the past couple of weekends, it needs to be more consistent. 

“We have a bike patrol unit here that’s authorized at 28 officers. We’re told that we’re down to about seven officers now. The bike patrol unit is the primary patrol unit in downtown, so that really affects us, and there are shifts for which there are no bike patrol officers available,” he said.

For Sterman, the benefits of downtown living still offset the problems, but he wants to see change.

“We need to do something now; we need to act like this is an urgent problem and we need to fix it and we can. That’s the good news,” he said.

Sterman believes steps the city can take outside of more police is targeting certain spots causing some of the problems. That includes regulating short-term rentals and surface parking lots. 

“There are all sorts of things that we can do short of adding more police, but the one thing we shouldn’t do is nothing. We can’t just throw up our hands and say that this is just inevitable, that cities across the country are experiencing problems and there’s really nothing we can do,” he said.

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