Thursday, March 24, 2011

Violence in St. Louis?

Over the past 10 years, the City has experienced significant decreases in crime. Many people have asked why St. Louis has bucked the trend of higher crime in contrast to previous recessionary periods. With the results of the 2010 census, one might explain the drop as being based on the loss of 29,000 residents. This might be true in part, but St. Louis has been losing population for over 50 years, during which time the City has experienced periods of dramatic crime increases. I continue to proclaim and believe the overwhelming majority of citizens would agree, that police officers and the service they provide have a great deal to do with the explanation. In the past 10 years, the police department has answered an average of 300,000 (911) calls per year, made an average of 28,000 arrests per year, written more than a 100,000 reports per year, and performed an additional 300,000 self directed activities and community outreach contacts. In total, police officers’ activities add up to over 6 million police service contacts in 10 years. The hard work and dedication of St. Louis Police Officers has made a tremendous difference in our City.

Despite police officers’ herculean effort to rid our City of gangs, violence and drugs, crime has not fallen enough to change perceptions or the reality of high crime associated with far too many City neighborhoods. At a rate of over 28,000 arrests each year, the police department in 10 years has arrested the equivalent of the current population that resides in the City. The arrests range from minor city ordinance violations to serious felonies. The sheer volume of arrests would suggest the police department has at least arrested every gang member, violent offender or drug dealer once, twice and far too often, many times more.

What happens with these cases? How many are prosecuted? How many cases are dropped? Who decides or reviews these decisions? Are the offenders’ criminal histories thoroughly investigated for prosecution and sentencing? Is the system sufficiently focused on zero tolerance for repeat, gang, gun and violent offenders? Do the sentences reflect the criminal history of the defendant? Is the type of probation that erases felony convictions over used? Are the appropriate levels of supervision and sanctions applied to offenders on probation or parole? Is the judge actively managing probation and parolees assigned to his/her court?

Certainly, arrests are not the only solution to reducing crime but they are a significant component. The goal of arresting individuals is for the system to work in concert to impose swift and certain consequences that modify or suppress criminal behavior. The police are part of a large criminal justice system that includes Prosecutors, juries, Judges and Corrections. We all have the capacity to improve and grow from constructive questions concerning our operations and this is the intent.

The St. Louis Police Department will continue to work with these entities to make our system effective at protecting our community. The IBM Smart Cities Initiative will be an excellent catalyst to rethink how the criminal justice system operates and evaluates its success as a team.