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St. Louis-area leaders to seek violent crime reduction training and education

The Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline is seen from a C-21
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline, as seen from a C-21 jet in October 2022.

Two weeks after St. Louis hosted a regional summit aimed at addressing violent crime, leaders across the area agreed to move forward on participating in a multiday training and education session aimed at reducing crime.

Members of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, through a voice vote on Wednesday, approved applying for the session provided by the Violence Reduction Center, which is based in the University of Maryland. Thomas Abt, founding director of the center, was the keynote speaker at the regional summit.

According to the center’s website, it “provides practical instruction to local, state, and federal leaders on how to choose, apply, and align the right combination of anti-violence strategies for their particular jurisdiction.”

Jim Wild, executive director of the East-West Council, whose members include elected officials in St. Louis and its surrounding counties as well as other community members, spoke in support of the council’s recommendation to apply for the program.

“It's really kind of, plan the plan, or train the trainer situation, they'll help you work on developing a blueprint for developing a regional crime strategy,” Wild said.

If the council is accepted into the program, Wild said the region would likely have to go through a crime and violence analysis.

While the training and education session would be at no cost, Wild said that the analysis would not be free but that either the council or a partner would provide the funding.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said he would support the program, though he warned about a short-term goal of reducing violence as opposed to addressing poverty simultaneously.

“I would suggest we need long-term goals, and one of those should be eliminating poverty, but we need a short-term goal of getting the violent people off the street,” Ehlmann said.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said an either-or strategy hurts the area in the long run.

“We have to be willing to walk and chew gum at the same time. I think we can have dual strategies to reduce violence and poverty all at the same time, because that's what we're trying to do in the city,” Jones said.

St. Louis County Councilwoman Rita Days also said she supported the endeavor but that she wanted the center to look at previous reports and build on that foundation.

“We just don't need another report to have another report, we've had those before,” Days said.

In addition to training and education, Tim Brinker, presiding commissioner for Franklin County, said he would be interested in a regional plan to assist law enforcement.

“Being down 200-plus officers, or whatever it may be, in the city where the population can spike by hundreds of thousands on any given night, I think it's very important for us to keep in mind and maybe even come up with some sort of plan in that regard,” Brinker said.

St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Megan Green said part of that should also be analyzing how current police officers are spending their time.

“When we look at national statistics that police spend about 80% of their time doing things that are not violent crime related and a good portion of those activities end up being things that really can be done by other professionals,” Green said.

Violent crime in the St. Louis area was a focus for both Democrats and Republicans during the past legislative session in Jefferson City.

For Republicans, legislative responses included bills that would have allowed for the state appointment of a special prosecutor to address violent crime in jurisdictions that exceeded a specified murder case rate.

That bill was largely seen by many as targeting then-St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Her resignation was part of an agreement with Republican Senate leadership that the legislation would not move forward.

Additionally, Republicans failed to pass a bill that would have taken away local control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

On the Democratic side, House members multiple times proposed amendments that would have stopped minors from carrying firearms in public places without adult supervision. None of those proposals moved forward.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.