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US Attorney Jeff Jensen On St. Louis' Crime Rate: 'It's Extremely Frustrating'

November 20, 2019 Jeff Jensen
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

For two years, Jeff Jensen has been the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, serving as the St. Louis area’s top federal law enforcement officer. Jensen’s office handles everything from racketeering cases to civil forfeiture — and, under Jensen, has made violent crime in St. Louis a particular focus.

That direction has come from his bosses in the U.S. Department of Justice, Jensen explained Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air. He said the prosecutors on his staff have seized the mandate. 

Still, the crime rate in St. Louis has remained high.  

“It’s extremely frustrating,” he acknowledged, adding, “I think if we were not aggressively prosecuting as we are, the crime rate would be even higher.”

Even so, Jensen said: “We’re obviously a short-term solution. The long-term solution comes from the groups we work with on a daily basis.” That includes programs like the Urban League’s Save Our Sons program and Better Family Life, which help connect residents with jobs and other resources. “Those groups are really the long-term solution. We are the Band-Aid.”

Being in the federal system versus the state court system means longer sentences for some defendants. But, as Jensen explained, it’s also funneled more of them into the federal probation system. 

Locally, that system has seen “remarkable” success, he said.

“In the federal system, we have more resources, we have better resources, so we have a low recidivism rate,” Jensen said. “It’s nothing I do, but the probation office here in the Eastern District of Missouri is the best in the country. They have about a 7.5% recidivism rate, compared to national averages of 70 or 80%.” Just 4.5% of those served by the department are unemployed, he said, which goes a long way to keeping them on the straight and narrow.

And even with the increased focus on violent crime, Jensen said his office continues to handle as much white-collar crime as ever.

“We’re doing everything,” he said. “But you’re right, when you do more of the violent crime prosecutions, something has to give. And what has to give is we have fewer prosecutors doing the other kinds of cases, but they’re just doing more with less. They’re working so hard, they’re so talented, that the number of prosecutions in all those other areas is up, as well as violent crime prosecutions.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.
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