Our city is struggling with a crime epidemic. It’s been festering for years, and we are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to put an end to violent crime. Despite our best efforts, St. Louis still has one of the highest crime rates in the country. A recent University of Missouri – St. Louis study confirms that violent crimes in our city are becoming deadlier. The study found that homicides stemming from robberies and assaults have increased by more than 50 percent over the past eight years.
While we work to understand the current crime trends, we cannot lose sight of the crimes that have already been committed. According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department 2019 Uniform Crime Reporting Homicide Analysis, there are 69 open cases from incidents happening in 2019 alone. We cannot forget about these victims. It is imperative that we solve these cases.
Critically important to solving these crimes is information provided by witnesses cooperating with law enforcement. Unfortunately, there can be roadblocks that may prevent witnesses from coming forward to aid investigations. One of the major issues facing our community is the current system’s potential to inadvertently expose witnesses to needless risk. For instance, during the information-gathering discovery phase of an investigation, witnesses’ personally identifying information, like their names and addresses, may be provided to the defendant’s attorneys and possibly even the defendant. All of a sudden, a witness who did the right thing by coming forward may find themselves the target of harassment, intimidation or even physical harm by the suspect.
People should feel safe and protected when working with law enforcement to bring dangerous criminals to justice. They shouldn’t have to worry if doing the right thing will get them or their family hurt. To address this problem, the General Assembly passed and the governor signed Senate Bill 224, which includes legislation I sponsored to help protect witnesses and their families. This bill allows prosecutors to redact a witness’s personally identifying information in materials given to the defense.
This simple, commonsense change adds a much needed layer of protection for witnesses aiding investigations. Witnesses must have the confidence that their information is protected while law enforcement officers work to get dangerous criminals off our streets. By making cooperation with police safer, I hope we can solve more crimes, bring the perpetrators of these horrible acts to justice and help provide some closure to victims’ families.
At the end of the day, this is our city, and we must work together to solve the problems facing it. If you have any information that may help solve a crime, I encourage you to call Crimestoppers at 1-866-371-TIPS.
Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) represents the 5th District in the Missouri Senate.