Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Open Blog to St. Louis

This is not an easy blog to write. Not because I’m afraid of being honest, but because these last few months have not been the St. Louis Police Department’s finest.

When I was named Chief I immediately began talking about my administration being open, honest and doing what’s right. Lately, we’ve been finding too many things that are wrong. There are practices, procedures and policies that have been in place for decades that make no sense. Why have they been allowed for so long? Force of habit for some, tradition for others. Still others? Even I’m not sure I can explain them. What I am sure of is that I’ve promised the people of St. Louis that I will improve the management of the police department. I will work hard to make sure that we are fiscally responsible. I will listen to what the people tell me they need and then do all that I can to make sure the police department delivers. I will do the right thing. As I’m looking at all aspects of the St. Louis Police Department, I am finding broken practices and fixing them. But with change, comes conflict. To make something right, you’ve got to be open about saying it was wrong. I’ve been saying that all too often lately, and as I continue to examine some of the Department’s long-standing practices, there surely will come a time when I have to say it again. To the men and women who I work alongside each day—you are some of the most dedicated, hardworking people I know. The few who tarnish our image and reputation do not represent the many who put their lives on the line everyday for too little pay and too little recognition. Together, we will get this Department on the right path and we, and the City of St. Louis, will be better for it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

If It Saves One Life, It’s Worth It

997 guns in 8 hours. Wow! This past Saturday, the Department held its’ second consecutive Gun Buy Back. If we were to base the event’s success solely on the number of guns turned in, consider this: we almost doubled last year’s total of 536 guns.

This event was paid for with money seized as a result of criminal activity. The venue, The Omega Center, let us in for free. KPLR-TV co-sponsored the event, as did Clear Channel Radio and 100.3 The Beat. In other words, this event didn’t cost taxpayers anything.

An elderly man walked in about 30 minutes before the gun buy back ended. When he was handed his cash, he said with a smile, “I sure do need this”, waving the $50 bill. “And I’m glad to get rid of this,” he said, pointing back towards the gun. “You don’t know what will happen if things get heated and that’s around.” In many instances, police officers DO know what will happen. We’ve seen it all too often. Someone is killed over something so inconsequential that it’s hard to believe. Critics say that gun buy back’s don’t work. Studies show that few gun buy backs can ever be directly credited for decreases in crime or in some cases, crime goes up even in the wake of a gun buy back. I can’t say for sure what impact gun buy backs have on a community, but I can say this. There are now 997 guns that from this day forward cannot be used in any future crimes. Over the next few days, the Department will melt most of those weapons, destroying all but those that may have been reported stolen or used in a previous crime. What if some of the guns that have been used in crimes this year, had been turned in at last year’s gun buy back? How many fewer victims might there be?

I’m not saying that putting an end to violent crime is as simple as getting guns off the street. There are bigger social, economic and employment issues that have to be tackled. Still, if turning in those guns saves even one person’s life, it’s worth it.
I want to commend every person who turned in a weapon. I also want to make a special mention of the Metropolitan Police Department employees who spent the entire day at the event. Many of them were not scheduled to work. They voluntarily gave their time because they love this community and they truly want to do everything they can to make it a better place. This is the kind of commitment that doesn’t make the news, but it doesn’t go unnoticed by me and I’m sure by most of you. Their dedication and passion throughout the planning and execution of this event makes me proud and it makes the community that much better.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Solution is Not More Guns

We’ve all heard the stories on television or read about them in the newspaper. In the middle of a heated argument, someone’s shot. What is incredibly difficult to comprehend, is that an argument over money, a rumor, even fast-food ends up costing someone their life. The recent suggestion that if every citizen was armed we’d all be safer might very well have just the opposite result. Would those situations, all real, have ended in homicide if the involved parties didn’t have a gun readily available? While each homicide in St. Louis has its own set of circumstances, most homicides in St. Louis have two things in common---the weapon of choice is a gun, and the suspect and the victim know one another.

While we’ve seen decreases in overall crime for many months now, we’ve got a big challenge with homicides. I’ve talked extensively about my plans to decentralize the Department and push more resources to the district level. That’s already begun. And while it’s too soon for us to know the results of decentralization, we saw a 50% decrease in homicides in November of this year, as compared to November of last year. That followed 6 months of increases. It’s a good sign but it’s just the first step of a very long journey.

The Second Amendment ensures the right to own a gun and I fully support those law abiding St. Louisans who choose to exercise that right. However, the things you can do to decrease your chances of becoming a crime victim have little to do with owning a gun. If you don’t participate in illicit activities like drug use, and you don’t associate with those who do, you dramatically decrease your chances of becoming a homicide victim. By not leaving valuables in plain sight in your car, parking in well lit areas, using an anti-theft device like a club or an alarm, you dramatically decrease your chances of becoming a victim of auto theft or break-in. By starting a neighborhood watch group and being vigilant about what’s happening on your street, you dramatically decrease your chances of your neighborhood becoming a haven for drug activity.

While police officers have the dangerous job of arresting criminals, we must all be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work that addresses the underlying reasons why criminals commit crimes---poverty, lack of education, lack of family structure, lack of employment skills, drug addiction. We must work together. We must look out for our neighbors and our neighborhoods. We must care enough to get involved, even if it’s not happening in our own backyard. I think all of these things will help but I can’t guarantee these are the solutions. However I can say with certainty that the solution is not more guns.