My Commitment to Safe Neighborhoods
By Lyda Krewson
“Violent crime occurs at the intersection of poverty and despair and that is where our fight must begin.”
Increased gun violence in St. Louis has cast a pall over our City neighborhoods. If the incidence of crime is to be reduced in a meaningful way, the City must battle on multiple-fronts and commit the resources that are required. That means greatly expanded resources for Police, for Crime Prevention, and in the care of Victims. And all of these efforts—every one—must be undertaken with a full commitment to diversity, justice, equity, and preservation of civil rights.
On the first day of my administration, I will form a Working Group to urgently combat violent crime in our city. That group will include police, prosecutors, judges, victim advocates, the personnel department, and others, who will implement the following plan and provide insight and advice as we move forward.
More Police, More Pay, More Training, More Equipment
“The officers who work for the St. Louis Police Department are underpaid and underequipped.”
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is operating well below their authorized force of 1,300 officers… today we have about 1180 officers… that is 120 officers short. It has been like this for the better part of two years. The City’s efforts to hire additional officers have been slow, experienced officers are stepping down, and the department faces a growing shortage of experienced officers that is approaching crisis level. We have insisted that officers help to fill the gap by working mandatory overtime, creating additional fatigue in this stressful position. The heavy reliance on mandatory overtime makes it difficult to provide additional training for officers. Increasing the force size will allow the department to expand the training regimen for officers to help them make optimal decisions in their work while also focusing on their own wellness. Our efforts to streamline and improve the hiring process must be swift and sure, so that we can build a police force that respects the diversity of our population in all ways. Additional officers, training, and equipment, are essential to rebuild trust between our communities and law enforcement.
“Let’s face it, no one calls the police on their best day. When we call, it’s urgent, sometimes life and death urgent, and we expect two things—that the police will show up ‘fast’ … and that they will exercise perfect judgment. The conditions we’ve created make those two expectations very difficult to achieve.”
Despite the demanding and often perilous challenges of big city policing, the starting salary for City Police officers is $5,000 less than St Louis County. Compounding this, officers in the City of St. Louis lack necessary equipment and technology such as body cameras, body armor, and non-lethal weapons.
The department can solve crimes, and remove dangerous criminals from the streets, more effectively if they are provided modern technology and equipment such as license plate readers, surveillance cameras, and programs like Shot-Spotter.
“We must introduce the most modern and up-to-date training that is available for our officers. In 2016 America, we send our police into the streets to deal with our social problems, to intervene when a mentally ill individual has a break, and when homeless people try to find a place to sleep. Now we have to start equipping and training officers for the job that we demand they do.”
Proposed New Annual Police Spending:
|200 more uniformed officers||$10 million|
|Pay raises for officers||$10 million|
|Total Additional Police investment||$25 million|
“The most important thing we can do for our community is to prevent crime from happening in the first place.”
Comprehensive crime prevention efforts will include initiatives that run the gamut from common sense gun regulations and direct conflict resolution work in the community – to recreation programs for youth and physical improvements to neighborhoods.
Common Sense Gun Regulations
Missouri has systematically cut mental health and social services funding, while drastically increasing access to guns. January 1, 2017, anyone 18+ is allowed to carry a gun concealed, with no permit, no background check, and no training! This is a toxic cocktail that puts the burden of dealing with the deadly consequences on local government. St. Louis needs a regulatory environment around guns that works for an urban area—it doesn’t appear that the state of Missouri will provide that – we need to take matters into our own hands. I am committed to enacting common sense gun regulations, while protecting citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights. These efforts include promoting a ban on assault rifles, insisting that guns left unattended in cars be secured in a locked box that is permanently affixed to the vehicle, and promoting efforts to reinstate background checks for gun sales and transfers. Police officers report that criminals who go to parks and parking lots, and break into all the cars in sight, are often in search of guns. When they are successful in stealing a gun, we’ve just placed a gun into the hands of a law-breaker. Those are the guns I want off the street—guns that are in the hands of criminals, not the firearms of law-abiding, responsible, and careful citizens.
Recreation and educational programs for youth
Society has understood for years that if young people are not provided with constructive opportunities to fill their time, they are often inclined to fill it with activities that we don’t want. Today, the City of St. Louis spends only $2 million per year for all of its Recreation department. This budget funds recreation center operations, swimming pool operations and programs for senior citizens and youth alike. The City’s efforts are supplemented by strong programs produced by high-quality not-for-profit providers including Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, CYC athletics, and dozens of other community-based efforts.
“Still, the need for recreational and educational programming opportunities for young people is significant and appears to be largely unmet. Programs and activities that can strengthen the mind and body of our young people are a proven deterrent to bad behavior and encourage life skills and educational success.”
The City will budget an additional $2 million for recreation and educational programs for kids. We will identify or establish a not-for-profit partner to help fill the unmet needs.
Anti-violence conflict-resolution initiatives
Some cities have had success curbing violence through community-based conflict-resolution training and mediation initiatives. The City will budget up to $1 million per year for expansion of community-based anti-violence programs.
Alternatives to prosecution and incarceration
“We can’t just arrest our way out of this crime problem. And if we try we will create even bigger problems in our residents and our City.”
In my first budget, I will also recommend that the City provide resources (up to $2 million per year) for a challenge grant to city prosecutors. The funds will be available for programs that prosecutors choose to implement that 1) create alternatives to incarceration and felony convictions for youthful, non-violent offenders or 2) expand the use of drug-courts or provide opportunities for individuals who are not yet hardened, dangerous criminals, to avoid incarceration and find another path.
Protecting our most vulnerable citizens
Our homeless citizens are vulnerable and need our help. Frequently, the conversations about homeless men and women tend to focus on the suggestion that they commit crimes.
“The truth is that homeless citizens are frequent victims of crime, and without a place to live, it is even more difficult for the police to keep them safe and for them to get back on their feet.”
Better care and support for our homeless citizens will be an important City priority. New initiatives grounded in the ‘housing first’ model will carry a price tag – perhaps an additional $1 million per year.
Vacant buildings are not safe in neighborhoods
Vacant buildings and unkempt vacant lots provide fertile breeding grounds for criminal behavior ranging from petty vandalism to violent felonies. These conditions create anxiety in neighborhoods and interfere with residents’ ability to feel safe and secure. Nothing good happens in a vacant building. It’s time for St. Louis to tackle this problem. There are 7,000 vacant buildings, and 18,000 vacant lots. This is almost 20% of all parcels. About half are owned by the City (through LRA) and half are privately owned. Unfortunately, some buildings will have to be demolished – but we must implement programs to allow individuals and small developers to gain ownership of these buildings provided they agree to secure and renovate within a few years. A commitment of an additional $2 million per year to transfer, demolish, and or maintain these properties will be recommended.
Proposed New Annual Spending on Crime Prevention
|Expanded opportunities for youth recreation||$2 million|
|Anti-violence community programs||$1 million|
|Alternatives to Prosecution & Incarceration||$2 million|
|Protecting homeless||$1 million|
|Neighborhood Environmental Safety||$2 million|
|Total Additional Prevention Investment||$8 million|
Care of victims
“When I hear that we had 188 homicides last year, and 180 so far in 2016, I don’t really think about the number. I think about the 368 families whose lives are forever changed.”
Victims of crime are traumatized, even when they do not suffer bodily injuries. This trauma can make it impossible to feel safe and can lead to more serious problems. I intend to make up to $1 million per year available to fund social workers and emergency services when required. Local universities and service providers will be asked to participate and coordinate this program, and these services, on behalf of the City. We must help our neighbors get through this.
Where does the money come from?
Fully funded, the components of this anti-crime plan will cost $34 million per year. With City resources strapped, people want to know where those funds will come from.
“First and foremost, I want to be very clear – we will find the money to fund this plan. Period.”
This amount represents 8% of the city’s General Fund. This spending will be my administration’s top priority and it’s quite possible that other spending may be replaced with this new spending.
Ferreting out waste – prioritizing our spending – new revenue sources:
I am the Chief Financial Officer at PGAV, an international design and planning firm. I am a CPA. I know how to do this. First, I will initiate a review/audit of all city spending. I will identify savings. This audit will clarify the cost of all city operations so that city leadership can make informed choices. Just like at home, the city can’t afford everything we want, so we must make the hard and difficult choices to fund our priorities. It is reasonable to believe, that after hard choices are made, and other spending is tightened up, there will be a funding gap that must be filled. If that is the case, I will work with political leaders, my own government, and the private sector to develop the needed revenue streams. Aggressive efforts will be made to identify grants and other third-party funding for new initiatives. We will find the money to implement this plan.