for a Safer St. Louis
Reducing violence will be the measure of St. Louis’ reclaiming its prominence in the region. The city is in crisis, unable to ensure a safe environment in which to live, work, and play. A total of 194 people were murdered in the city in 2019, an increase of 4.3% over 2018. As of July 31, this year, a heartbreaking number of 153 people had been murdered. In only seven months that’s 79% of the total number of murders last year.
Clearly, this is a traumatic time, with COVID-19 and the resultant economic collapse wreaking havoc on people’s lives. But unlike the city’s relative inability to control the national pandemic or the worldwide economic implosion, it could reduce its own murder rate. St. Louis can learn lessons from other cities, like Oakland, California, which dramatically cut its murder rate, or states like New York that developed successful strategies used in numerous cities to reduce violent crime.
To that end, Cara held a virtual forum on July 30 that brought together two national experts and two local experts to share strategies that St. Louis could use to address violence.
St. Louisans should know they can sit on their porches, walk down the sidewalks, play in the parks and drive the streets without fear for their lives. This top priority for Cara’s administration has to be rooted in trust.
Unfortunately, many residents do not trust the police. The neighborhoods where residents don’t trust police are the same ones that experience high levels of crime, particularly violent crime. These St. Louisans are the victims and witnesses of most crimes and they hold eyewitness accounts – the keys – to solving those crimes.
Cara’s administration will begin by fully staffing the Communications Division of the Police Department to answer every 9-1-1 call. Currently, about 25% of callers to 9-1-1 get a busy signal. In this new administration, well-trained staff will answer and direct calls. A city that can’t answer emergency calls can’t succeed. To begin rebuilding trust, police must answer the phone.
The next priority will be to collaborate with the community in learning from other cities’ success to re-envision public safety. Police will no longer go alone into situations for which they aren’t trained. Social workers and other social services professionals will work hand in hand with the police to respond to crises with options – health care, mental health services, housing, job training. Too many calls end in arrests or worse – violence – when meeting basic needs would provide the first steps to solutions.
Nationwide, crime is in a long-term decline. Through focus and cooperation St. Louis can reverse its course and count itself among the cities that have successfully begun to reduce violence.