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Federal-State Partnership Is Getting Violent Criminals Off St. Louis Streets Faster

U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt provide an update on Oct. 8, 2019 on their Safer Streets Initiative.
U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt provide an update on Tuesday on their Safer Streets Initiative.

Missouri’s attorney general and the federal prosecutor in St. Louis say a six-month-old initiative to reduce violent crime by boosting the number of cases prosecuted at the federal level is working.

“As a community, we are having important conversations about what we can do to tackle the crime epidemic,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Tuesday at a news conference. “We all have very important roles to play in that effort. My job is to prosecute those who have broken the law and have harmed victims and their families.”

Schmitt and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, Jeff Jensen, unveiled the Safer Streets Initiativein January. Five attorneys from Schmitt’s office were sworn in as federal prosecutors in April, and were in the courtroom starting in June. Since then, they have filed federal charges against 58 people for crimes ranging from gun possession to fatal carjackings. Many of the individuals now facing federal charges had previously been convicted of crimes at the state level.

There have been 159 homicides in the city so far this year, compared to 148 last year. Shootings are also up more than 11%. It’s impossible to measure statistically whether the stepped-up federal prosecution has had an impact on crime, Jensen said, but he believes that the increased pace of prosecutions is making a difference. 

“We would get to these cases eventually,” Jensen said. “Now we’re able to do it quickly, because people who are committing crimes oftentimes do it in a spree. So to the extent we can assist the investigation of the police or the agents in charge of the case as quickly as possible, we get those people off the street quickly and we keep them in prison long enough for them to be reformed.”

In addition to longer prison sentences for crimes like gun possession, Jensen said, the federal probation and parole system has a much lower re-arrest rate than the state system.

Schmitt said he intends to keep providing Jensen with the additional attorneys as long as he is in office. He said he has also offered to place people in the offices of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell.

Gardner and Bell could not immediately be reached for comment.

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