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Cooperative Efforts Against Guns, Drugs In St. Louis Region Get Boost From Feds

Jeff Jensen and other local law enforcement leaders announce that St. Louil will become the 19th Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force on April 24, 2020.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Raido
With other local law enforcement leaders behind him at safe social distancing Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen announces that the St. Louis region will be getting additional federal help to fight guns and drugs.

Nearly two dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in the St. Louis region are getting a boost from the U.S. Department of Justice in their efforts to combat violent crime.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri, which includes St. Louis, on Tuesday announced the creation of the Gateway Strike Force. It is the 19th Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in the country.

“This strike force is really the logical evolution of the law enforcement collaboration that we’ve had for years in St. Louis,” said Richard Quinn, special agent in charge of the FBI’s St. Louis field office. “This designation is a recognition of how serious the violent crime problem is here in St. Louis.”

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden, whose department will participate in the task force, said more than 50% of the homicides and shootings in the city are related to drugs.

Members of agencies on both sides of the Mississippi River will work out of an office in St. Louis. The designation as an organized crime drug enforcement task force means yearly funding from the Justice Department and gives local departments access to sophisticated equipment and technology.

Those additional resources can lead to more in-depth investigations and prosecutions of more people involved in a drug conspiracy, said Jim Delworth, the assistant U.S. attorney overseeing the local strike force.

“If you take out one, someone could easily take their place. If you take out the whole organization, from leadership to couriers, then you’re going to have an impact,” Delworth said.

Though the St. Louis police department is short 140 officers, Hayden said being part of the task force is worth it.

“This is probably a 30-man team or more, so when you invest five officers in something that gets the cooperative help of others in the region, it still comes out to a benefit for the city,” Hayden said.

The task force had been a key initiative of St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, who retires Thursday after 34 years with the department, including more than six as chief.

“My job ultimately is to reduce crime and keep people safe,” Belmar said. “I don’t deserve any more credit than anybody standing here, but the fact of the matter is it was important on a personal level to make sure that we not only got the illicit narcotic issue under control but the violent crime. St. Louis deserves better, and I think the strike force is important as we do that.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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