Cara Spencer: St. Louis’ most urgent problem is violent crime. I have a plan to address it.

St. Louis Post Dispatch Op-Ed

My life changed forever when a gun was put to my head, but I’m still here. The young man behind the gun, on the other hand, lost his life that night — to incarceration.

The number of homicides in the city of St. Louis in 2020 stands at 262, the highest on record. While murder is the most horrific, other crimes such as assault, burglary and carjacking are far too common and all inalterably affect the lives of the victims, the accused and their families.

As mayor, my highest priority will be to take immediate and decisive action to decrease violent crime in our communities. We will never be able to grow, attract businesses or improve the quality of lives of St. Louisans without successfully addressing this issue. To that end, I’ve put together a 10-step, data-driven program that focuses on bringing to St. Louis dynamic programs that have reduced violence in other cities.

My plan will bring heightened trust and an investment in public safety that goes well beyond policing.

Cities across the nation are reducing violence with these strategies that are built on data that records their effectiveness. We will start with focused deterrence. This program helped Oakland, California, drop its homicide rate by 50% in just six years by targeting the small number of individuals at high risk for being involved in violent crime by helping them turn their lives around and being firm if they don’t.

Trust is paramount.

When both witnesses and victims mistrust the police, they don’t share the vital information law enforcement needs to solve cases of violent crime. We must recognize the breakdown in trust that is causing serious damage to our communities and our police. We need a mayor who has an unwavering commitment to heal this divide, one prepared to engage in the exceedingly difficult but very fruitful work of bringing our community and police closer together.

I am committed to healing this divide, not furthering it.

We will start by expanding both the Behavioral Health Response program and the cops and clinicians program, which would empower social workers to respond to problems of the homeless and other troubled populations. This would free up the police to address serious crime.

As mayor, I will create an office of equity and inclusion and appoint a chief equity officer. This officer will oversee all department policies and processes around recruitment, hiring, promotions and discipline. I will update use-of-force policies with a clear commitment to the reverence of life, and I will mandate transparency in use-of-force investigations.

Finally, I will lead the city in investing in public safety beyond traditional policing.

For years, I have been sounding the alarm about our poor record of answering 911 calls. Just recently the witness of a violent sexual assault in Forest Park was unable to get through to 911. That is one instance; many residents experience this horror regularly.

As mayor, I will make the system for responding to 911 calls reliable. In addition, I will implement a 311 system, long effective in other cities, to divert non-emergency calls to other problem-solvers.

I will implement a problem landlord unit to hold slumlords and absentee property owners accountable for building violations.

At the bottom line, we have to understand the root causes of crime and look for solutions. As a city, we must invest in programs and strategies that will reduce crime long term.

As mayor, I will build on my track record as an alderman of investing in our community’s children. As an alderman, I reopened the only free public pool in south St. Louis and invested in our community recreation center. I have supported services for addiction and mental health in our communities and recently helped secure a $2.4 million federal grant to address lead pollution in homes that causes serious health problems for children. These efforts will all be based on breaking down racial disparities outlined in the Racial Equity Indicators Report.

St. Louis can join the many cities nationally that have effectively reduced violent crime. Change must be rooted in transparency, accountability and decisive leadership. That’s exactly what I will provide as mayor.

I am ready to go to work.

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