Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has pledged money and manpower to help St. Louis and St. Louis County address an increase in violent crime.
“We know that we have a serious problem with violent crime that must be addressed,” Parson said Thursday at a news conference in St. Louis. “As your governor, and a former law enforcement officer for more than 22 years, protecting the citizens of our state is one of the utmost importance to my administration.”
The announcement came after a day of meetings with local political, religious and law enforcement leaders.
Starting Oct. 1, 25 Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers will be deployed in a variety of roles throughout the city.
Six of them, along with a cyber analyst, will be assigned to various task forces that focus on violent and gun crimes. Two investigators will join a federal-state partnership in which assistant attorneys general are deputized as federal prosecutors.
Other troopers will be deployed along the four interstates in what the governor is calling “surges.”
“We will work closely with [St. Louis] Chief John Hayden to determine the best operational periods for us to work in the city, but we’re going to keep that very diverse and look for these opportunities,” said Col. Eric Olsen, the commander of the highway patrol.
This is not the first time the state has put troopers on the highways in St. Louis. In 2017, as part of then-Gov. Eric Greitens’ “St. Louis Safety Plan,” 24 troopers patrolled interstates 55 and 70 from July through November, and then switched to more targeted patrols until March 2018.
The impact the extra patrols had on crime is unclear. While the number of homicides and aggravated assaults with a firearm dropped between 2017 and 2018, there is no way to know how much of that drop was due to the troopers’ presence. And in 2019, both of those crimes are running ahead of where they were last year.
“I hope they are successful,” Parson said of the new patrols. “I think, again, we go back to all of us working together, and if we’re working with the federal and the state and the county and the city to really make sure we’re utilizing resources where they need to go.”
In addition to adding the troopers, Parson announced he would direct $2 million in state resources to help victims of crime.
Local leaders react
Both Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Sam Page said they were pleased with the support Parson pledged.
“Of course we have extraordinary needs in the region to go after the heart of crime,” Page said. It’s been here for decades, and we have real communities that are devastated economically and we have real disparities to deal with in the region and that’s part of the problem, but what I think the governor has brought here today is significant and will help.”
The governor’s plan “gives us more support than we had yesterday,” Krewson said.
“We all want more, right? But let me say, I think it is a very good commitment by the governor to understand that this is a serious problem here, and he’s committed to helping us in any way he can.”
Krewson and Parson remain at odds over the availability of guns in the region. The mayor wants to require anyone who wants to carry a firearm in the city to have a permit. While Parson said he would not prejudge any legislation, he again expressed support for the 2nd Amendment.
When the governor met last week with Krewson and Page, along with federal, state and local law enforcement. St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner were excluded.
Bell and Gardner met with Parson and federal prosecutors on Thursday afternoon. Bell said it was a “step in the right direction that we’re at least in the same room and having conversations.”
“I think it’s important that we recognize what each other’s needs are in order to help each other,” Bell said. “We need resources so that we can better not only address the violent crime, but also the root causes that lead to violent crime. That includes alternatives to incarceration, treatment programs, etc.”
Gardner said they’re requesting more money from the state that can be used in a “strategic and proactive way.” She specifically pointed to the Victims of Crime Act, which takes in money from fines, penalties and forfeitures from people convicted of offenses.
“We need to address those issues where we are lacking in resources for witness and victim relocation,” Gardner said. “Funds to address the trauma. Funds to help kids deal with the trauma of seeing loved ones and friends who are killed and maimed in our communities.”
When the Highway Patrol was deployed in the city in 2017, Gardner asked the attorney general’s office to assist in prosecuting tickets — telling the St. Louis American that her office couldn’t “absorb what is tantamount to an unfunded mandate.” She stressed that she would handle the cases where the patrol found people with outstanding warrants or driving under the influence.
Asked on Thursday if Parson talked about how tickets written by troopers would be handled, Gardner replied: “There’s many discussions about how the Highway Patrol was going to be utilized in our jurisdiction again.”
“We want to be strategic,” Gardner said. “We want the Highway Patrol utilized in a way to support our jurisdiction so they can focus on the violent-crime issues that affect our region. I’m going to talk to the mayor about how we use the Highway Patrol and how we make better use of their time. And I think those are conversations going forward.”
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann
Jason Rosenbaum contributed reporting to this story
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