St. Louis has an image problem that Ferguson either brought to light or didn’t help, depending on your perspective. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said addressing those image issues will take a lot of work.
“It takes a lot of leadership and it takes a lot of collaboration from a lot of people working together,” Slay told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Wednesday. “One thing for sure that Ferguson taught us, if we hadn’t learned it before, is that what happens in any part of our region impacts the entire region. The issues that really have been brought to the surface as a result are something that all of us have a stake in addressing, and we need to be doing that in a very aggressive and an open way.”
A lot of those issues are based in racial disparities and inequality, Slay said.
“Generally, the region is one of the most segregated regions in America. The city of St. Louis is, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, is one of the most integrated cities in America, believe it or not,” Slay said.
“We have a segregated city,” Slay said later when asked about the study. “In the city, there’s a portion that’s almost all black. But the rest of the city is integrated to some degree.”
In a long list of issues that Slay said the city is working to address, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department was mentioned several times:
- “We’ve entered into an agreement with the Ethical Society of Police to increase the number of qualified minority police officers in the city of St. Louis,” Slay said. “While we’ve done a fairly decent job of having good diversity within the department, we can do better.
- The city also is creating a civilian oversight board. “That’s to help build a stronger bond and a better understanding and also a better relationship between the police department and the community it serves.”
- Body cameras will soon be standard for police officers, “as soon as we figure out a couple of things, and that is the right policy governing their use and, you know, getting the money to fund (them),” Slay said. “It’s going to cost well over $1 million.”
- “The commanders have undergone implicit bias training in the police department, which is important,” Slay said.
- The department has created a “force investigative unit to review every police-involved shooting.” Slay said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce will take an independent look at each shooting. “The city supports a change in state law that requires all fatal police shootings to be investigated by an independent prosecutor,” Slay said.
Outside of the police department, Slay said changes have been made to the city’s court system:
“We lifted 220,000 arrest warrants stemming from minor traffic violations,” he said. “It didn’t make any sense. We don’t give tickets out to people to raise revenue in the city; we do it for public safety purposes. So we not only lifted those warrants and gave people an opportunity to come back and go to court, but we also made sure that we gave the judges some very good discretion in deciding and imposing fines to take into consideration, in a stronger way, people’s ability to pay.”
And there’s the issue of jobs:
- “We’re seeking $3.8 million from the federal government to help us create better and more job opportunities and training programs” for black men and women in north St. Louis city and county who are not working or in school, Slay said.
- “We partnered with Gov. (Jay) Nixon and the state of Missouri on expanding our STL Youth Jobs program that we started a number of years ago so that we can actually get over 2,000 young people jobs in the summer. We lost our federal funding for that, and we’re working on trying to get more funding from the state for that.”
- Slay also said the city is working to increase diversity in construction unions.
For many, changes are not coming fast enough. Protests have popped up throughout St. Louis, including City Hall and the police department’s headquarters.
“We’re not interested in stopping people from expressing their First Amendment rights,” Slay said. “One of the things I’ve worked hard at with the police department is making sure that we do everything that we can to protect peaceful protesters’ right to protest.
“But I’ve also said that those committing violence, and we’ve seen some of that and it’s unfortunate because the vast majority of the protesters are peaceful and they come in in a peaceful way and they’re looking for peaceful ways to get their message across, but those who commit violence, those who destroy property, those who commit crimes are criminals. They’re not protesters. Drawing that line is something that is sensitive, but something that I’m committed to do. We’re not going to tolerate unlawful acts or violence on people, on property in the city of St. Louis.”
St. Louis Rams Or Los Angeles Rams?
Monday’s news that St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke is, as has been speculated for several months, building an NFL stadium in Los Angeles has Rams fans wondering what’s next.
The St. Louis stadium has been a point of contention between the team and St. Louis. Two years ago, the Rams asked for $700 million in upgrades for the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis, including a retractable roof. Local leaders said no, which has turned the team’s 30-year-lease into a year-to-year lease.
“We are not going to even attempt to compete with L.A. over a football franchise,” Slay said. “It’s not going to happen.”
The NFL has said no team will relocate in 2015, and developers have said that Kroenke’s L.A. stadium is expected to be complete by 2018.
Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz, appointed by Nixon to evaluate local stadium options, will present a plan to the governor on Friday. Slay said he has not yet seen that plan, but that Nixon has previously said there will be no new taxes in the state or St. Louis region to pay for a new stadium. Slay also said that despite attempts, neither he nor Nixon have talked to Kroenke.
“Whatever we do is going to have to make sense to taxpayers,” Slay said. “If there is any additional fees or anything, it would only be related to game-day experience. If you don’t go to any games, you won’t pay any more.”
If the team does leave, it could create new opportunities for the dome, which hosts dozens of conventions each year. The Rams use the dome about 10 days a year, Slay said, but since conventions often are scheduled a year or more in advance, the entire football season becomes off-limits until the NFL releases schedules each year.
“I think the Rams, an NFL team and being an NFL city does matter,” Slay said. “It does bring value. But that value is limited. We should not go too far in terms of trying to keep an NFL team here.”
It’s also possible that if a new stadium is built, it won’t be at the same location or even in the city. “I’m a regional guy,” Slay said, while expressing his desire to keep the Rams in the city if the team stays. “I’d like to see it in the city, but I’d have this be an NFL region than have it not.”
The City/County Relationship
Since 2003, Slay worked with St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, who lost last year’s re-election bid to Steve Stenger. Before taking office as county executive, Stenger said talk of a city-county merger is off the table for awhile, an issue that Slay supports.
“He’s got a lot of priorities,” Slay said of Stenger. “I wouldn’t expect this to be his number one thing on his agenda.”
Issues related to Ferguson come first, Slay said. “I know that Steve Stenger is certainly aware of all those issues, and I’ll be looking forward to talking more with him about it.”
Crime In St. Louis
In December, Slay announced a $9.4 million plan to fund 160 more St. Louis police officers over the next two years. Adding to St. Louis’ police force will let people know they’re safe and the needed resources are available, Slay said.
Through August, crime was down in St. Louis when compared to the previous year, Slay said. After August, crime was up about 40 percent, he said. Michael Brown was shot and killed on Aug. 9 in Ferguson.
“Any homicides are too many,” Slay said. “We need to do more.” He said adding to the city’s police force will help.
Slay also weighed in on several other issues affecting the city:
- New Life Evangelistic Center, a homeless shelter downtown managed by Larry Rice that the city’s Board of Public Service ruled is a detriment to the neighborhood: “One of the things we do in the city of St. Louis, much better than anyplace in the entire region, is we provide for the homeless,” Slay said. “In fact, about 50 percent of the people we serve in the city of St. Louis in our homeless services come from St. Louis County and other places in the St. Louis region. We’re happy to do that and more. Larry Rice is not the only place in the region that does this. He has a permit for 32 beds, and he has, in some cases, over 200 people in his place. We’re looking out for the homeless and their safety and what’s humane.” Rice has until May 1 to reduce the number of people staying in the shelter overnight or get a new permit for more people. Slay said the city can take on the 200 to 300 people that Rice’s shelter is now serving.
- Grand jury system: “I think the grand jury system is a good one,” said Slay. “Whether or not it needs any tweaks as a result of some of the things we have seen recently is going to be up to the lawmakers.”
- School transfers: “I’m all for an approach where the maximum number of kids can have the maximum number of opportunities to quality education,” Slay said. “The more that we can allow individual kids and their families to choose quality schools, the better off we’re going to be as a region and the better off we’re going to be as a city.”
- Red-light cameras: “They’re good for safety. I support them,” Slay said. “They’ve got to be done right. Believe me, this is not a revenue generator. It’s for public safety.”
- Interstate tolls in Missouri: “If we can’t do it any other way, I’m fine with it,” Slay said. “But we’ve got to do something to find some money at the state level for our infrastructure because our highways need it.”
- City snow removal: “We’re stocked up with salt,” Slay said. “What I’m telling them is you just need to be able to get it done.”
“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.