Following meetings with leaders in St. Louis, Gov. Mike Parson is dedicating more than two dozen state workers — through tasks forces and other operations — to combat the rise of violent crime.
Parson announced the creation of three task forces, $2 million in funding, and a partnership among other steps of immediate action, during a press conference in St. Louis Thursday.
“As governor and a former law enforcement officer for 22 years, protecting the citizens of our state is of utmost importance to my administration. We know we have a serious problem with violent crime that must be addressed,” Parson said. “After meeting with leaders and organizations at all levels over the past months, we have rolled up our sleeves, gotten to work, and identified the immediate actions we at the state level can take to help get violent criminals off our streets.”
“This plan and the state resources we’re committing to it are based on a series of very constructive meetings and ongoing conversations we’ve had with law enforcement leaders, prosecutors, and community leaders in St. Louis,” Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten said in a statement. “We are committed to working with our local and federal partners and citizens interested in reducing violent crime in the region.”
In the past month, Missouri’s chief executive has met with St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, two dozen religious leaders, and Reginald Harris, a top aide to U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen, among other regional officials.
St. Louis has seen more than 130 murders — with a majority of victims killed with a firearm — so far this year, including 12 victims who were 17 years old and younger.
The issue of violent crime in the region spurred Democrats to file 16 bills related to guns during a special session of the General Assembly. Since the measures were outside of the specific extraordinary session scope, they did not progress through the process.
Parson was resistant to legislatively addressing gun violence during special session, noting it was not the appropriate venue. House Speaker Elijah Haahr told reporters he has asked a few representatives to look into potential legislation for the 2020 session, and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz has convened a working group on the subject.
“We are committed to doing everything we can at the state level, but we can’t do it alone. It is truly a team effort, and everyone has to do their job to keep Missourians safe,” Parson said. “None of us, no matter where we’re from, want to see our children being shot in the streets. If we are to change violent criminal acts across our state, we must do our jobs, work together, and support our law enforcement officers to accomplish that goal.”
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade criticized the plan, saying Parson left many voices out of the conversation and does nothing for other areas of the state.
“A major factor in Missouri’s gun violence crisis is that too many guns are in the hands of too many people who shouldn’t have them,” said Quade. “Since the governor’s proposal to address gun violence doesn’t include strengthening Missouri’s dangerously weak gun laws, I fear it will end up being little more than a public relations campaign that produces few, if any, tangible results.”
The plan Parson laid out will begin Oct. 1 and includes, according to a press release:
- Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Strike Force
Two state troopers will be assigned to the ATF Strike Force. As part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives within the U.S. Department of Justice, the strike force works to protect communities and combat the growing number of violent crimes involving firearms, explosives, arson, and alcohol and tobacco products.
- U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force
Two state troopers will be assigned to the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, which combines the efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to locate and apprehend the most dangerous fugitives and assist in high profile investigations.
- Mission SAVE (Strike Against Violence Early) Task Force
Two state troopers and one cyber analyst will be assigned to the Mission SAVE Task Force. Mission SAVE targets the most violent individuals while also working on long-term drug investigations around organized crime and gang activity.
- Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Interstate Surges
Patrol surges will take place on interstates throughout St. Louis City, primarily on I-70 as well as I-55, I-44, and I-64, with four to six troopers assigned to each surge. The patrol surges are intended to apprehend violent criminals, remove them from the interstates, and free up local officers to patrol other high-crime areas.
- U.S. Attorney’s Office Adoptive Cases
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to assist with federal-level gun and drug cases. In addition to the Assistant Attorneys General the state has already provided, Governor Parson’s plan will assign two additional investigators to this already successful partnership.
Through this collaboration, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has increased the number of gun and drug cases by more than 100 percent from just two years ago. The Violent Crime Unit has already indicted nearly 500 cases so far this year and is currently preparing another 200 cases for indictment. State personnel will help accelerate these efforts.
- Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Funding
The state currently has approximately $2 million in VOCA funds available specifically for the St. Louis region, which will be used to support Victim Service Days through the Missouri Department of Public Safety. These will be staffed by two program representatives from the Crime Victim Services Unit and two social workers. VOCA funds will also potentially support additional victim advocates in the area.
- Probation and Parole Police Partnership
Probation and Parole is currently working with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) on a heightened supervision program for violent offenders. Probation and Parole is looking to better partner with local law enforcement agencies to further this program.
At the local level, SLMPD and the St. Louis County Police Department have made significant progress on infrastructure needs including MetroLink coverage, ShotSpotters, license plate readers, and cameras.
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for The Missouri Times and The Missouri Times Magazine. She joined The Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.