Some St. Louis police officers are supporting a vote of no-confidence in their chief, Joe Mokwa. I am not a police officer, but I’ll register my opinion here: Chief Mokwa has my confidence and total support. So, too, do the City’s police officers.
Crime in the City is down 12 percent this year. That is due, in part, to some hard-nosed policing and some good police leadership. It is also due, again in part, to some conscious decisions the City made to reduce crime: beefing up the most violent offenders unit, creating a career criminal unit in the circuit attorney’s office, and adding 450 jail spaces to keep dangerous criminals off of the streets.
It is not easy being a police officer. It’s a tough job that is endless. It must seem some days as if officers arrest the same people for the same crimes, again and again. And crime seems to go up or down often regardless of the effort that officers make. I agree with the police officers association that more should be done to make sure we don’t go backwards. We may, in fact, have to go to the voters next year for a small increase in the sales tax to make sure we have enough money to add 80 more officers, put more money in the police and firefighters pension systems, and add even more jail space.
At the same time, City residents and businesses know that it is already not easy paying for the police department. St. Louis already has one of the largest per capita police departments in the country. The police department’s general revenue budget has gone up 25 percent since I became mayor. The costs of the police department account for a third of the City’s general revenue budget. Police officers have gotten raises in each of the past two years, and will probably get one next year as well. We are putting almost 30 million dollars into the police pension fund.
At some point, we have to acknowledge that both the police department and the police chief are doing all that residents and businesses can afford for them to do and that we will have to look elsewhere for new resources to reduce crime further.
The federal government, with expensive priorities overseas, has all but eliminated funding for local law enforcement programs. We need an administration with different priorities.
And we also need as Chief Mokwa awkwardly, but correctly, told the Post-Dispatch recently parents, grandparents, and a range of community institutions in St. Louis to intervene in the lives of young people when they start going bad, but before they commit violent crimes. Their failure to do so implicates them morally, if not legally, in the very crimes the young people commit. Reducing crime is not just the responsibility of police officers. A failure to acknowledge that fact places a terrible and frustrating burden on the department.