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Auto thefts are down in St. Louis as work continues on crime prevention plan

A St. Louis County Police squad car sits outside the third precinct on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in unincorporated south St. Louis County.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
A St. Louis County Police squad car sits outside the 3rd Precinct in October 2022 in unincorporated south St. Louis County.

Car thefts have plagued the city of St. Louis for years, but like overall crime rates, those numbers appear to be dropping too.

According to police in the city and St. Louis County, auto thefts and thefts from cars were cut nearly in half in January from the same period last year. Tracy Panus, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis police department, credits police work and partnerships for the drop in numbers.

Regional efforts to craft a plan to address violence are also still underway, she said.

“We had well-organized rings of individuals who were breaking into 20 to 30 cars at once,” Panus said. “They break door handles and glass and steal cars off the lot. But we have made some good arrests and are working with the appropriate organizations.”

St. Louis Metropolitan Police reported having 488 thefts from motor vehicle incidents in January 2023, and last month there were 228. Motor vehicle thefts dropped from 722 in January 2023 to 358 incidents reported last month.

St. Louis County Police reported 136 thefts from motor vehicle incidents in January 2023 and only 60 so far this year. Motor vehicle thefts were also cut in half last month compared to January 2023.

Although numbers are declining, the year started off with two separate thefts of catalytic converters from vehicles that belong to the St. Louis water department, totaling about $50,000 in damage.

The state House Committee on Emerging Issues recently took testimony on two pieces of legislation. One would boost the requirements for salvage yards that want to accept catalytic converters and make the crime a low-level felony. Another would would require the seller of a catalytic converter to provide the scrapyard with the vehicle identification number of the car the part came from.

The work continues

Last year, police leaders and experts from across the region, organized by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, began meeting to formulate a crime action plan.

Pat Kelly, director of the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis, which is part of a regional collaboration against violent crimes, said public safety officials are still building a focused deterrent plan to help young people stop committing crimes.

The plan will include providing mentorship and other resources to youth and families, he said.

He pointed to what he called a big part of the problem.

“In so many circumstances there were just no consequences for the people being picked up,” Kelly said. “It’s no different than what’s going on with the expired car tags, but what the media fails to talk about is because they can’t issue warrants for cars with expired tags, a car could have 20 tickets, but because they aren’t recorded with the Department of Revenue until the court rules on it, there’s basically no immediate consequences.”

Kelly also mentioned Rule 28, a scoring system used to determine if juveniles should be held in police custody. He said this is often used to release juveniles, who sometimes end up arrested again, creating a “revolving door” at detention centers.

“It takes 15 points to be held over,” Kelly said. “Over at the juvenile detention center in St. Louis County, if a juvenile is brought there with charges, they will use only the most egregious charges to add points for scoring. For instance, a felony is 12 points, and that juvenile wouldn’t get held over because they didn’t reach the full 15 points required to be held over.

“They’d end up picking up the same individual the next night for something else, but that has gotten a little better.”

Kelly said he’s working on state legislation that would require detention centers across the state to apply the scoring consistently as well as to use all potential charges against juveniles when using Rule 28 to determine whether they remain in custody.

He said he believes this would make a significant impact on reducing juvenile crime throughout the region and county.

“We don’t want to throw them in jail and throw the key away, but we want to make sure they get the services they need,” he said.

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