In the last four years, violent crime is down by about 30% in the City of St. Louis. It was way down for the first ten months of the 2010. Last month was a bad one. Violent crimes jumped. People noticed, and rightly asked for explanations, solutions, accountability.
The last is the easiest. Government is accountable. Its efforts can be listed, quantified, and evaluated against results. Crime is down overall, but some neighborhoods remain dangerous. Explanations and solutions are tougher.
The police department is roughly a quarter of the City's budget. When it comes to reducing crime, the department is our first, most predictable, and best resource. We are using it. (And using it more has meant putting police officers into more dangerous situations. You have most likely noticed that, too.)
Funding the police department remains the City budget's top priority. Despite the department's skyrocketing (and state mandated) pension costs, we have not cut the police force like other cities have. The police budget has gone up 40% over the past decade. Finding ways to put more of the budget into crime prevention will require changes of heart by the state-appointed Police Board, the Missouri General Assembly, and the governor. Were the department locally controlled, that would already have happened.
As for the police department's operation: Chief Dan Isom already uses crime mapping software to focus his manpower where he needs it. He is now working on a major reorganization plan to get many more officers working desk jobs back on the streets, better matching patrols to problems. I agree with his effort and emphasis.
But, there are not enough police officers to post one everywhere. Nor would that necessarily address crime's roots.
City departments are also focused on crime prevention, using all parts of our community to address some crime's underlying causes. A review of the statistics shows that much of the city's most dangerous crime is concentrated in five or six neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods that have the highest concentrations of poverty and unemployment. That isn't a coincidence. Nor is the continuing failure of public education, the ready available of illegal handguns, or the fact that too many adults have absolutely no idea what their children are doing at any time of the day or night. Bad schools, bad policies, and bad parents (and unhealthy lifestyles, a terrible economy, systemic and historic prejudices) mean that there are probably aren't enough of anything - police officers, building inspectors, NSOs, recreation aides, health inspectors - to stop crime altogether, but the effort is important.
The Parks and Recreation department has just opened a recreation center in Carondelet Park, the city's first new one in decades. The Board of Public Service is building a new recreation center in O'Fallon Park. Both new centers, and our existing network of centers, are programmed to give young people safe places to be and more things to do. Other city departments and agencies have expanded funding for after-school programs, for lead remediation, for stepped up enforce of problem property and nuisance ordinances, and for youth career training.
Bottom line: We have been making crime go down, and we will make it go down further. But, there is an essential truth: Crime will not go away in every neighborhood, without the effort of the entire community. That's the explanation. I am open to all discussions of the solution.