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St. Louis leaders continue regional crime prevention talks amid drop in homicides

Police respond to a deadly shooting on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023 at Lindell and Spring, just off the campus of St. Louis University, in St. Louis. The shooting left one victim dead, with another person transported off the scene.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Police respond to a fatal shooting in August at Lindell and Spring, just off the campus of St. Louis University in Midtown. Two people were shot, one fatally.

Homicides in St. Louis have reportedly dropped since 2022, and for the second time this year, city leaders are participating in a summit with police officials, business leaders and violence experts from across the region to discuss crime prevention from a collaborative standpoint.

The summit began Monday and was organized by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. The all-week event is being hosted at the Washington University School of Medicine’s Eric P. Newman Education Center.

So how can St. Louis reduce crime, homicides and the number of people who die while in police custody? Those are answers officials are trying to find as Jones and other leaders have often highlighted crime as a glaring issue in the city.

The gathering consists of a series of learning sessions led by crime expert Thomas Abt of the University of Maryland’s Violence Reduction Center on Monday. Charles Coyle, St. Louis' director of public safety, said this is just the beginning, as law enforcement leaders and crime experts joined from St. Louis County and Illinois.

Most of the strategy sessions are closed to the public.

“It’s going to be great as we try to work through preventing crime and how to intervene,” Coyle said Monday. “It’s a problem that we all have to deal with. We’re all faced with the same conditions, the same issues and the same behaviors. It’s not just the city of St. Louis.”

According to Mayor Tishaura Jones’ office, homicides in the city have decreased by 20% since last year, and juvenile shootings are down nearly 40% this year. City homicide detectives have a 75% success rate of closing murder cases, Coyle said.

The city's Department of Public Safety has reported 15 deaths at the City Justice Center — the city jail — between 2000 and 2023, Coyle said. Concerns increased when three inmates died in custody between August and September.

Of those 15, about one-fourth of the deaths were ruled suicides, including one person who died over the weekend. Another quarter of the 15 deaths were ruled as accidental, and there has been one homicide.

One-third of the deaths were due to natural causes, Coyle said.

He said sometimes there’s a misconception that people die while in police custody more often than it actually happens. He said there’s a process of waiting for toxicology reports to learn whether deaths were accidental or not.

“When you give the combined number, it makes it seem much worse than it may be,” Coyle said Monday. “Any death in our Justice Center is too many.” He said the city hired a new health care provider to oversee inmate health at the jail on Dec. 1.

“The contract with Physician Correctional, USA allows the City of St. Louis to provide necessary healthcare to detainees at the CJC as City leaders continue to search for longer-term healthcare management at the facility through the bidding and contracting process,” the city said in a statement.

When asked if he believes medical staff could be a part of the problem, Coyle stopped short. He said some accidental deaths might also be attributed to contraband being brought into the jail.

“We really have to look at the data that we find,” he said. “I don’t want to jump out and say yes, because we have to look at each case, and right now we don’t know.”

Moving forward, organizers said they are in the midst of preparing a regional plan of action on crime to debut in the coming months.

Lacretia Wimbley is a general assignment reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.