A year into his tenure as Missouri’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt says he’s just getting started.
Schmitt, a former state treasurer and legislator, was officially sworn into office on Jan. 3 after Josh Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate. And right off the bat, Schmitt had a goal for his new office: “We want to be the best law firm in the state of Missouri and the best attorney general’s office in the country.”
Schmitt said that wasn’t just a slogan but the driving force behind the culture he hoped to maintain in the Attorney General’s Office. And looking back on his first year as the state’s chief law officer, Schmitt said they are on the right track.
“A lot of the success and things that stick out in the first year, [are] just those one-on-one conversations you have with a victim of abuse or the police officers that we respect and support,” Schmitt told The Missouri Times in an interview. “Those are the kinds of things that are gratifying.”
“We said from the beginning that we wanted to have an office that was advocating for all six million Missourians. And when you look at some of the issues that affect people in their lives and what we can do to make a difference, we’ve tackled some of the tough ones.”
There is a myriad of initiatives and goals Schmitt’s office has identified since he took over — and he’s already seeing success in many of them. From championing an effort to end the rape kit backlog to entering into a “unique” federal-state partnership to reduce violent crime, here’s a look at some of the work Schmitt has highlighted in his first year.
Safer Streets Initiative
Schmitt pointed to the “very unique partnership, the first of its kind in the country,” his office has with the federal government as part of the Safer Streets Initiative. That program allows assistant attorneys general to be deputized as special assistant U.S. attorneys, enabling them to file federal charges.
“We want to be a part of the solution as it relates to violent crime,” Schmitt said. “And we’re just getting started. We think that partnership can provide safer communities. The human toll alone of people losing loved ones, it’s unacceptable. So we want to do everything we can to be part of the solution.”
Untested rape kits
Schmitt established the SAFE Kit Initiative this year which has focused on identifying the number of untested rape kits in the state, testing them, and creating a statewide protocol for how those kits are to be handled.
In his first year, Schmitt said his office has already reached a “milestone.” In November, he released an audit identifying more than 6,100 untested kits throughout the state as well as an additional 830 that could need to be retested.
Now that those have been identified, the next step is testing them.
“I think it’s just really important for us to honor the courage of the victims who have come forward to make sure those kits don’t sit on a shelf somewhere,” Schmitt has said.
“I’ve learned a lot by listening and getting around the state and talking to people who have been affected [and] lost loved ones. No region or demographic has been spared,” he said. “Hopefully we are providing a path forward, not just to take on the opioid manufacturers but also to do everything we can to make sure people have what they need to take this on themselves.”
Schmitt’s office has made consumer protection a priority as well during his first year — from traveling around the state meeting with senior citizens about phone scams to helping a veteran in Carter County who had been ripped off by a chair lift company.
“I think it’s important for people to know we have these big lawsuits, like we take on the opioid manufacturers, but a lot of what we do, especially in our consumer protection division, is we mediate disputes,” Schmitt said.
Municipal court reform
When Schmitt was a state senator, he championed legislation that essentially capped how much of a city’s budget could come traffic fines. And now that his legislation has become law, Schmitt can see it come to fruition.
“It’s just a tremendous opportunity to see the thing all the way through,” he said. “Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s about helping to restore trust in the court system that had really broken down and been abused in certain areas — not just in the St. Louis region but all across the state.”
“That law has made an impact and no longer will people be treated as ATMs.”
Another success for Schmitt: getting to know his office. He said he places a premium on checking in with the lawyers and investigators who work in his office.
“You certainly appreciate the quality of people we have in this office who have important jobs to do. And getting to know people personally, making sure they know their work is appreciated, is something that has been a lot of fun,” he said.
As for what’s next, Schmitt, who is up for a full term in 2020, has already identified two major legislative priorities for 2020: the creation of a uniform carjacking offense and eliminating the residency requirement for St. Louis police officers.
You can catch Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Sunday’s episode of “This Week in Missouri Politics.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.