This seems to be the season for college professors to share their grand ideas for the future of the fire service. Earlier this month it was an economics and law professor at the University of Miami who told us since the number of fires is down we should replace career firefighters with volunteers. Now, University of Missouri – St Louis criminologist Rick Rosenfeld says since crime is up, St. Louis firefighters should be fighting violent crime in their down time.
Rosenfeld, an “informal advisor” to Chief Sam Dotson of the St. Louis Police Department, believes firefighters should be on foot patrol when they’re not responding to the traditional emergencies a fire department handles. The professor also thinks the police and fire departments should share on budget so that more money can be pushed to the police side.
Rosenfeld’s comments came during a hearing yesterday (Tuesday) of the Board of Alderman’s Public Safety Committee.
“I’m not suggesting we arm firefighters, certainly not initially,” said Rosenfeld. “Each time a firefighter, which I think should be called a ‘public safety officer,’ engages in one of those activities, it frees a police officer for that amount of time to engage in hot spot patrols and other activities that can have a real crime reduction effect.”
Rosenfeld believes the idea may not be supported by the firefighters union, which has not commented on the proposal. The St. Louis Police Department and Mayor Francis Slay also refused to comment on Rosenfeld’s suggestion. However, Slay’s office said no idea should be off the table when tackling violent crime.
And among Rosenfeld`s suggestions is using firefighters during their ‘downtime between fires’ as he calls it to assist police with foot patrols in high density areas like Washington Avenue on weekends, adding more eyes and ears on the streets, freeing up police officers to concentrate on hot spot policing. Rosenfeld also recommends combining the budgets of the police and fire departments into one public safety budget so money can be moved around to where it is needed the most, which these days he says would be for fighting crime. ‘I`m not suggesting that we reduce the number of firefighters and add that same number to the police department,’ Rosenfeld said. ‘What I`m suggesting is we share the function. Just as the police are always present at a fire, fire department representatives can assist the police in their activities as well. It`s a two way street.’