(The Center Square) – St. Louis is one of 15 cities selected by President Joe Biden to collaborate on ways to spend American Rescue Plan (ARP) or other public funds on community violence intervention programs.
“The American Rescue Plan is an opportunity to address the root causes of crime by investing directly in underserved neighborhoods and preventing violence before it occurs,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said in a statement announcing the city’s participation.
Jones is awaiting approval by the city’s Board of Aldermen on a spending plan for $80 million in ARP funds for initiatives focusing on neighborhood stabilization, investment and long-term growth. Approximately $11.5 million of the funds will be allocated to address the root causes of crime and improve public safety by increasing funding for violence intervention programs, youth programming and employment programs. Jones asked the board to approve her funding plan by July 1, but board president Lewis Reed stated the deadline wouldn’t allow enough time for review.
St. Louis recorded its 89th homicide on Wednesday, including three murders on Monday in a mass shooting. The city had 260 murders in 2020, the highest amount in 50 years.
In May, Jones reduced the budget of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department by $4 million and left unfilled 98 vacant positions on the force. That led state Rep. Nick Schroer, R-St. Charles, to hold a press conference on June 2 at the department’s union – the St. Louis Police Officers Association – where he vowed to lead an effort to return the police to state control, a move that started during the civil war to keep control of armed departments. Schroer on Wednesday announced his candidacy for the seat of Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, who is term limited.
Jeff Roorda, executive director of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, criticized community violence intervention programs.
“It’s a phony baloney, window-dressing program that just contributes to this faux conversation about police reform and reimagining police work,” Roorda, a former officer, told the media at Schroer’s news conference. “We’re not reimagining it. We’re deconstructing it.”
Research by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence found community violence intervention programs reduced violence by as much as 60%. The programs utilize a team approach consisting of law enforcement leaders, social service agencies, and community-based organizations to communicate and work with individuals most likely to commit violence, and to intervene in conflicts. Teams then connect people with resources for social, health and economic assistance.
“This is a bill of goods that has been sold to the taxpayers of St. Louis,” Roorda said. “We’re taking police officers off the streets to ride around with a social worker who does not respond to these sorts of (violent) calls. Instead, just as it has always been, two police officers respond to those calls because it is a person in crisis. They go there, they intervene, and the social worker doesn’t show up until all of the policing and all of the intervention has taken place.”
Other cities in the President Biden’s collaborative are Atlanta, Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Baton Rouge, La.; Chicago, Detroit, King County, Wash.; Los Angeles, Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis, Newark, N.J.; Rapid City, S.D.; Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.
“I’m proud our city is being recognized by the Biden Administration for our efforts to reimagine public safety, and I urge the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to approve my $80 million relief proposal that devotes significant resources towards making our communities safer across our entire city,” Jones said.