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St. Louis Mayoral Candidates Make The Case For Their Plans To Address Crime

From left, St. Louis mayoral candidates Lewis Reed, Cara Spencer, Tishaura Jones and Andrew Jones.
File photos / Kae Petrin, David Kovaluk, Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
From left, St. Louis mayoral candidates Lewis Reed, Cara Spencer, Tishaura Jones and Andrew Jones.

The four candidates who want to be the next mayor of St. Louis agree on one thing — violent crime is the top issue facing the city.

Until safety can be assured, they say, investment in the city cannot happen.

The numbers make the scope of the problem clear. There were 262 people killed in the city in 2020, the most since the early 1990s, and another 3,000 shot and injured.

Here are the candidates’ plans for addressing the problem:

Andrew Jones

Jones, vice president of marketing and business development for the Southwestern Electric Cooperative, takes the most traditional law-and-order approach. More aggressive policing, he said, is a good first step.

“We know that about 80% of the violent crime is committed by a very, very small percentage of people. Why hasn't anything been done? Why aren't they arresting anyone?” he said of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. “They're intimidated to execute their duties, because their leadership won't allow them to do so.”

But when pushed during a recent debate for proof that officers were not allowed to arrest known criminals, Jones instead pointed to the fact that crime continues to go up even though he says the department knows who is responsible.

Andrew Jones, February 2017
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Andrew Jones, pictured in 2017, is the vice president of business development and marketing at the Southwestern Electric Cooperative in Greenville, Illinois.

A lack of leadership, Jones said, is also evident in the finding by the management consulting firm Teneo that the city has no overall strategy to fight crime and has yet to advance a plan to close the north St. Louis jail known as the Workhouse. But he said, true to his reputation as the “plan man” who analyzes everything, any decision about the future of Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards would require a thorough review.

“We can’t just do willy-nilly, knee-jerk reactions to anything,” he said.

It would be Edwards, or his successor, who would make any decision about the future of current Police Chief John Hayden.

Jones remains skeptical of programs like Cure Violence, which looks to intervene in conflicts before they turn violent, and Cops and Clinicians, which dispatches mental health workers to certain calls. His three opponents would all keep a version of such efforts in place.

“Someone would have to correct me to tell me that criminals who are involved with drugs, narcotics and the gangs associated with it will respond to a psychiatrist, a psychologist and others who are out talking,” he said.

Listen to Jones’ appearance on St. Louis on the Air

Listen to Jones’ episode of Politically Speaking

Cara Spencer

Spencer, who represents the 20th Ward on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, is one of two candidates in the race who speaks openly about her experience with violent crime. Though she was unharmed when a man pointed a gun at her head, “the young man behind the gun lost his life to incarceration.”

“We have to get serious about guns, [and] the violence destroying our community,” she said.

The centerpiece of Spencer’s plan is a strategy known as focused deterrence. Rather than focus law enforcement resources in geographical areas, she said, “it focuses on a very small number of people, individuals at high risk for being involved in violent crime, and helps connect those individuals to the tools they need to turn their lives around.”

Cara Spencer
File photo / Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
Cara Spencer is the alderwoman from the 20th Ward, which takes in parts of four neighborhoods in south St. Louis.

Spencer would also give some attention to the city’s 911 service. At least a quarter of the calls, she said, are currently answered by a recording.

“We know that we have communities that do not trust our police department,” Spencer said. “And when they are engaging, or willing to share vital information with our police department, the first thing we needed to at the very least is pick up the phone.”

Spencer pledged to follow through on recommendations in the Teneo report to reorganize the police department, which would free up officers to do more community policing and investigations. She also promised to formalize policies to share information within the department.

But like Jones, she demurred on the future of Edwards.

“Whether Judge Edwards stays on or not is not something I'm prepared to answer right now,” Spencer said. “But I do think that it's time to have a major shift in how we are approaching public safety in St. Louis.”

Listen to Spencer’s appearance on St. Louis on the Air

Listen to Spencer’s episode of Politically Speaking

Lewis Reed

Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, said personal experience with violent crime also shapes his strategy to combat it. His brother was shot and killed in the siblings’ hometown of Joliet, Illinois, in 1982, and his nephew was murdered in 2018 in St. Louis.

“I’m the person who’s sitting here who has had a family member shot and killed and burned in a dumpster in the city of St. Louis,” he said.

Lewis Reed January 2017
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Lewis Reed, shown in 2019, is the president of the Board of Aldermen.

At the heart of Reed’s plan is an effort to rebuild trust and get people communicating with police. He touted his efforts to use his role on the city’s budget oversight committee to boost the money available for rewards for information that leads to arrest in murder cases. Doing so, he said, helps get shooters off the streets immediately.

He also pointed to his six years of advocacy for body-worn cameras, which were finally approved last June.

“What the studies show is that when a body camera is present, there is more effective communication between law enforcement and the community at large,” he said. “Does it fix all the problems? Absolutely, it does not, right? But it helps.”

Reed said the findings in the Teneo report validated the need for his 2018 legislation that called on the Department of Public Safety to develop a comprehensive crime plan every year.

“We were working to position the city so those things could be rectified,” he said. “But from the mayor’s seat, it’s easier to just do these things, rather than having to legislate them and hoping that they carry them through in the executive branch.”

Reed also was circumspect about Edwards, saying it would be inappropriate to announce a personnel decision publicly without reviewing any records.

Listen to Reed’s appearance on St. Louis on the Air

Listen to Reed’s episode of Politically Speaking

Tishaura Jones

Jones, the city’s treasurer, promises a crime-fighting strategy that, in her words, puts the “public” back in public safety.

“I would have a community-first public safety approach, which brings everybody to the table,” she said. "That's faith leaders, that’s local businesses, that's prosecutors, social service providers and the police.”

Like so much else in the city, she said, crime fighting currently happens in silos.

Treasurer Tishaura Jones smiles as she announces a run for mayor at Ivory Perry Park in the West End neighborhood on Nov. 4, 2020.
File photo / Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
Treasurer Tishaura Jones announces her run for mayor in November.

“A lot of people are doing great work in their respective corners,” she said. “I don't think there's any one voice that is getting more attention than the other or that anybody's missing. It's just that we're not working all together.”

Jones said she was shocked by the Teneo finding that the city did not have a crime-fighting plan, given Hayden’s reputation for using data to develop policing strategies. But ultimately, she said, the report is similar to dozens of others issued by various groups since the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

“Let's chart a path forward, put a strategic plan together with the calls to action identified in every report. And let's be serious about moving this region forward and making the investments in what will move our region forward,” she said.

Of the four candidates, Jones came the closest to saying she would dismiss Edwards. Though she respects him, she said, they fundamentally disagree when it comes to public safety strategy. Edwards focuses too much on an “arrest and incarcerate” model, she said.

“I think it’s incumbent when I win to make some major changes,” Jones said.

Listen to Jones’ appearance on St. Louis on the Air

Listen to Jones’ episode of Politically Speaking

Election information

The polls in the primary for mayor, comptroller and Board of Aldermen open at 6 a.m. Tuesday. It is the first election in the city using approval voting, which means voters can choose as many candidates as they want. The top two in each race advance to the April 6 general election.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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