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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis officials want to use $5.5 million to support first responders

Mayor Tishaura Jones announces the city’s efforts to put $5.5 million to improve the city’s emergency response system and investing in officer mental health support on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, at city hall in St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Tishaura Jones announced Monday that the city would spend $5.5 million to improve the city’s emergency response system, boost mental health support for officers and provide more incentives to emergency responders to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones on Monday announced a plan to use $5.5 million that the city owes the State of Missouri as reimbursement for a 2018 wrongful conviction settlement to improve the city’s 911 system and support emergency responders.

The city and the state agreed to pay nearly $14 million to the family of George Allen, a Black man wrongly convicted of murder in the early 1980s. Allen died in 2016 after spending 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt informed the mayor’s office in September that the city could keep the money if it allocates the funds to police personnel this fiscal year.

Jones’ proposal would offer hiring bonuses to 911 dispatchers, boost incentives to emergency responders who get the COVID-19 vaccine and provide more mental health resources to police officers.

“We’re always looking for more resources to help support our first responders," Jones said. “But if we truly want to make St. Louis a safer place, we need to take a broader, more holistic view [of] public safety."

The city is struggling to recruit 911 dispatchers, and a staffing shortage means long wait times for people making emergency calls. Jones said hiring bonuses will attract more candidates.

Some of the money will also fund larger incentives for emergency responders who get vaccinated.

“Our current numbers show that police and fire have the largest number of unvaccinated employees over all of our departments,” Jones said.

More than 75% of all city employees are fully vaccinated, the mayor said.

“We want to keep boosting those numbers. A larger vaccine incentive will help us do that, protecting first responders and the public from COVID-19,” Jones said.

Under the current incentive program, employees can receive a $100 gift card after getting either one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Jones also plans to direct some of the money to increasing mental health resources for officers. “We know that our officers are exhausted. And we want to make sure that officers get the help they need so they can continue to their jobs responding to violent crime,” she said.

Other than the stipulation that the money fund police and public safety, Jones said she wasn’t aware of other parameters that might govern the allocation of the funds.

The city counselor sent the plan to Schmitt’s office last week.

“I’m hoping he’s serious about getting our first responders the support they need,” Jones said of Schmitt. “I hope that he puts his campaigning aside and goes back to bipartisan values to protect people and to get things done.”

Follow Niara on Twitter: @niaraalexandra

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