ST. LOUIS – Baseball fans converging on the city's downtown for the playoffs series between the Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs can expect a beefed-up police presence, St. Louis' police chief pledged Thursday, two weeks after a shooting near Busch Stadium left a fan unable to walk and spawned unease about downtown safety.
Calling Cardinals playoffs games a fall ritual that's proven safe for millions of the club's fans over decades, Police Chief Sam Dotson declined to specify the number of officers he planned to deploy in uniform or civilian clothes for the best-of-five series that starts Friday in St. Louis. Game 2 on Saturday also will be at Busch Stadium.
"You will be safe downtown," Dotson said during a news conference outside the stadium, saying publicity about the Sept. 25 shooting that wounded Army veteran Christopher Sanna about six blocks from the ballpark "certainly highlighted the importance of police presence" during the Cardinals' home playoff games.
Referring to a man now charged in the Sanna shooting, Dotson added, "We're not going to let the actions of one individual change that (generally positive playoff) experience."
A local business promotion group, Downtown STL Inc., also said it will provide paid guides who serve as veritable "concierges," helping direct fans to the city's sites and accompanying them to and from their vehicles if requested.
Such services aren't uncommon for big events in downtown St. Louis and Downtown STL has provided its guides for about a dozen years, said Missy Kelley, the group's president and chief executive.
Dotson's remarks came a day after he attended an anti-crime summit in Washington, D.C., joining mayors and police chiefs from 20 cities for a Justice Department-led discussion about rising crime rates in many of those locales and the options in confronting it.
Homicides in St. Louis have risen 60 percent this year over the same period in 2014. Police say there have been 156 murders in 2015 through Wednesday, fast approaching the total of 159 for all of last year.
In downtown St. Louis this year through September, total crime is up 15 percent over the same period in 2014, according to the police department's online statistics. There have been no downtown homicides, rapes there are down 64 percent and robberies have decreased 32 percent this year through last month. But aggravated assaults in downtown St. Louis have risen by 54 percent over last year while vehicle thefts are up 23 percent.
But last month's shooting of Sanna has been jarring to many Cardinals fans fretting about their safety downtown — concerns Dotson and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay's spokeswoman sought to allay Thursday, pointing out the 31-year-old suspect in Sanna's case is in custody on $1 million cash bond related to multiple felony counts.
Slay has acknowledged recently that it is impossible to have officers everywhere, and Dotson said Thursday that "there's always a chance a crime will occur."
Slay spokeswoman Maggie Crane said Thursday that the mayor has authorized unlimited overtime for police staffing for such events as baseball's playoffs — and that beefing up police presence for them is routine.
"Do we expect more people filling up bars and restaurants downtown, taking advantage of the vibrancy and excitement (of playoffs baseball)? Sure. But they'd staff for that anyway," she said. "Anywhere you go you need to be vigilant and be smart about your actions. But enjoy yourself."