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Government, Politics & Issues

McCulloch hopes to focus more on preventing crime if he wins 8th term

Bob McCulloch is sworn in for another term as St. Louis County Prosecutor in 2015.
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Nearing the end of his seventh term, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch says he plans to seek an eighth one next year because he says he still has unfinished business.

“I truly enjoy the work,” McCulloch told St. Louis Public Radio.

This will be McCulloch’s first time on the ballot since a grand jury he oversaw in 2014 declined to indict a Ferguson police officer for killing a black man. That episode touched off sharp criticism from protesters who had sought more police accountability.

McCulloch was first elected as prosecutor in 1990. Among his re-election goals, McCulloch said, is to focus even more on available diversionary programs and treatment courts that “get people out of the system and into the community.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to prevent crimes. I’d much rather prevent them than prosecuting people for them,” McCulloch said. “Although I’m more than happy to prosecute people who commit crimes. If we can prevent them, that’s even better.”

McCulloch said his staff deserves a lot of the credit for fighting crime in St. Louis County. “There’s a lot of people who are not on the streets who are very dangerous people, who are not there because of the dedicated people in the prosecutor’s office,” he said.

At 66, McCulloch is the region’s longest-serving incumbent prosecutor. Although he’s a Democrat, he’s so popular among some Republicans that the GOP has at times failed to put up an opponent.

McCulloch has turned down various entreaties over the last 20 years to run for county executive or Congress. But he has not shied away from wielding his political influence.

He endorsed then-County Councilman Steve Stenger’s bid in 2014 to oust veteran County Executive Charlie Dooley, which Stenger acknowledges helped propel him to victory in that year’s Democratic primary.

Ferguson looms large

But soon after, McCulloch became a controversial figure when a white Ferguson police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black. The incident set off months of protests and prompted the federal Justice Department to weigh in.

McCulloch oversaw the grand jury convened to hear the case, and came under fire when the panel declined in late November 2014 – just weeks after the prosecutor won a 7th term – to indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

Since the Ferguson unrest, several members of the County Council have been critical of McCulloch.  Councilwoman Hazel Erby, a Democrat from University City, is sponsoring a bill to block a previously approved increase in his county pension. The council has held off on a final vote on the measure for months.

McCulloch’s lawyer has raised legal questions about the measure. McCulloch himself has chosen not to say too much about the pension fight – other than to note that the increase is for the office, not him, and wouldn’t take effect after next year’s election.

So far, no Republican or Democrat has announced plans to challenge McCulloch next year.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

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