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100 days in, St. Louis circuit attorney focuses on strengthening police, community ties

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner takes the oath of office at the Old Courthouse on January 6, 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner takes the oath of office at the Old Courthouse on January 6, 2017.

St. Louis circuit attorney Kim Gardner  is wrapping up 100 days in office this week as the first African-American to hold the position.

Gardner, who is the city's top prosecutor, has used most of her first weeks trying to improve the relationships between law enforcement and people of color.

"If one part of the system doesn't work, it affects my part of the system," she said. “As the weather gets better, we’re going to have myself and prosecutors go out with law enforcement, which I believe we can, to knock on doors and to engage the community in many different ways, to address this mistrust in the criminal justice system."

Gardner also is making some behind-the-scenes changes that she said would free up money to better protect victims of and witnesses to crimes.

"It's my job as the prosecutor to protect those witnesses and victims and make sure that if they want to be moved, they can be moved," she said. "If it's simply getting them resources so they can go away for a little bit, we want to make sure we have those resources. We want to make sure that we have the resources for trauma-informed counseling."

And for the first time in several years, prosecutors and defense attorneys are negotiating on low-level felony charges, which could cut down on the number of cases going to trial.

Gardner said she made the change as soon as soon as she took office in January.

"Not to criticize anyone previously but, we wanted to set the tone that we have to try to dispose of some of the non-violent cases in an appropriate fashion, and if there’s a way we can have discussion, we have to start having that discussion early so we can focus on the most serious and violent cases that we’re dealing with," she said.

Mary Fox, St. Louis' lead public defender, said Gardner's stance on negotiations is a welcome change, but she'd like to see it happen on more cases. 

Gardner said she remains humbled by her position; she was working at her family's funeral home before being elected.

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