St. Louis city is experiencing a renaissance of economic activity, which is constrained by our sustained violent crime epidemic, denoted yet again by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. In international finance, investors avoid pouring capital into failed or failing states – Somalia or Syria, for example. Just as failed states destabilize neighboring countries, the same goes for our city.
The problems of failed neighborhoods in St. Louis are affecting neighboring communities. Flight to distant suburbs is no longer viable as disaffected, unemployed residents of failed city neighborhoods expand their reach to include distant suburbs and the once no-go zones of sports, tourism, and academic venues. Therefore, a new solution is required for the metropolitan area’s sustained economic viability: a strategic, regional crime reduction strategy developed with area business leaders.
Such a plan would be coordinated from an Office of Coordinated Response, whose efforts would be overseen by a Coordination czar. That individual would be responsible for overseeing a law enforcement response – already led by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen – to include more technology (e.g. shot spotters, license plate readers, cameras, etc.) in areas where cooperation with police is limited owing to a number of social and community dynamics.
As illustrated by the law enforcement history during the crack epidemic of the 1990s, an onslaught of police activity destabilizes fragile families and inflicts moral injuries on civilian bystanders. The proposed Coordination Office would mobilize a surge of mental health and social service providers such as the St. Louis United Way, among others, such as Better Family Life, The Demetrious Johnson Foundation, and countless other groups that are rarely acknowledged. Coordination would enhance the operation of the programs we have and prevent wasteful spending on programs such as Cure Violence, which duplicates ongoing working already taking place.
The Coordination czar would also liaise with health care community, faith-based communities, legal, arts and philanthropic. Additionally, the celebrity would be solicited to lend their voices to this new effort.
To be successful, two critical things are required.
First, funding must be provided across the crime-impacted areas of St. Louis city and county. Since this is a regional problem, all stakeholders in the region must contribute through a variety of options such as: a fee attached to all municipal infractions imposed by courts; a variation for felony infractions featuring a sliding scale; an increase in parking fees; a fee on outside visitors to our free attractions (which would sunset at the conclusion of the crisis); as well as dedicated budgetary appropriations.
Second and most importantly, there must be a public announcement and commitment to full implementation of the coordination plan. Our demand to Jefferson City should be for tailored supportive legislation or policies to aid the biggest economic engine in the state to bring public safety to its residents and businesses, thereby insuring future increased growth and better future for everyone.
To do anything less is to ensure a slow decline during economic boom times and a rapid decline during slowdowns. No one wins during this status quo. In fact, people are dying. And, tragically, as this summer broadcasted to the nation, children are dying.
Rev. Rodrick K. Burton is pastor of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church.