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Gardner Says Her Reforms Have Made The City Safer

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner makes the case that her reforms have made the city safer at a town hall on July 18, 2019
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis prosecutor says changes she’s made in how the circuit attorney’s office fights crime have made the city safer.

“We have to stop having this rhetoric that we’re going to be able to prosecute our way out of this. That simply cannot be our strategy for crime reduction,” Kim Gardner told a friendly crowd Thursday night at a town hall. The system is going to do what it’s going to do, and that’s hurt people. And we have to look at how we stop the cycle of victimization.

Gardner held the meeting to talk about her time in office against a backdrop of criticism for her handling of the prosecution of then-Gov. Eric Greitens. A grand jury recently charged her investigator in the case with perjury and said Gardner knew about the conduct but did not report it to police or correct it. She has denied doing anything improper.

A special prosecutor is now looking into Gardner’s claims that Greitens’ defense attorneys threatened her and her staff. She didn’t address the controversy Thursday, instead detailing system reforms on her watch.

Gardner said she has expanded the number of people who are eligible for a program that lets defendants avoid a criminal record if they complete requirements like anger management and job training. The diversion program started in 2015, but Gardner has shifted resources to make sure more people get screened. By the end of 2019, she said, more than 400 people will have successfully completed the program since it started.

Gardner is also putting fewer people behind bars. There are 207 fewer people in the city’s two jails than at the beginning of the year, she said, and the number of people from St. Louis courtrooms sent to Missouri prisons is down 15% since 2016.

The decision to stop prosecuting people who possess fewer than 100 grams of marijuana helped, Gardner said, as did changes she made to the bail process.

“We’re using summonses for low-level, nonviolent felonies. We’re using the appropriate conditional release,” she said. “It’s about public safety. It’s not about whether you can pay.”

The city is facing a federal lawsuit for holding inmates simply because they cannot pay.

Data from the police department back Gardner’s claims that St. Louis is safer. She took office in 2017, and compared to her first six months, overall crime in the same period this year is down about 5%. Violent crime is also down slightly.

Homicides, however, are at the same place they were in 2017, when the city finished the year with 205 people killed. 

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.