State Highway Patrol to help address violence in St. Louis
A proposal calls for a special unit of the State Highway Patrol to target violent felons on highways, collect better intelligence to aid local police and push to stop drug trafficking
By Jim Salter
ST. LOUIS — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday unveiled a plan to quell violent crime in St. Louis, a place where he has a home but one he called "the most dangerous city in the United States of America."
The Republican's proposal, outlined in an outdoor news conference on a hot day in a high-crime part of St. Louis, calls for a special operations unit of the State Highway Patrol to target violent felons on interstate highways, collect better intelligence to aid local police and push to stop drug trafficking. The Missouri Department of Public Safety also will work with the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to go after violent criminals.
"We have too many neighborhoods where good people feel that they need to get inside before the sun sets because it's too dangerous after the sun goes down," Greitens said. "Crime tears communities apart."
St. Louis has earned a spot among the most dangerous U.S. cities. Homicides have been on the rise over the past three years, with 188 in both 2015 and 2016. So far, 2017 is shaping up to have a similar pace, with 95 killings through July 4, according to police statistics.
Greitens' family has seen violence firsthand. In December, his wife, Sheena, was robbed at gunpoint. She was unharmed. Three suspects, ages 14, 15 and 19, were arrested a short time later. Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL officer, said at the time that he was glad "the men and women of law enforcement found these young men before I did."
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, said at the news conference that violence in the city "is at a crisis point" and she welcomed the governor's intervention, something they first discussed in April during her first week in office.
Her support comes even as the two don't see eye to eye on many other issues. Greitens has called for a special legislative session scaling back a St. Louis ordinance aimed at housing and employment discrimination based on reproductive health decisions such as pregnancy or abortion.
Greitens also is allowing a bill to become law next month that pushes the city's increase of the minimum wage back to the state minimum of $7.70 per hour. In May, the city's minimum wage was raised to $10 an hour.
The minimum wage decision drew about two dozen protesters to Monday's news conference, many of whom shouted "Liar!" or "We need to get paid!" so loud that Greitens' words were often drowned out.
Governors in other states also are stepping up efforts to help violence-plagued cities. Last week, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, announced the creation of an investigative joint task force that includes law enforcement at all levels, calling it an effort to take back the "streets of Little Rock." It followed a July 1 shooting at a downtown Little Rock nightclub that left 28 people injured.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, also a Republican, announced a plan earlier this year to fund 200 more state police cadets to patrol Chicago-area expressways, where an increasing number of shootings have occurred. Chicago had 762 homicides in 2016.
The St. Louis program began Sunday night. "And in their first night alone, they had dozens of felony arrests, drug stops, and took drunk drivers off the streets," Greitens said.
Democratic state Rep. Joshua Peters of St. Louis was critical of the plan, saying it does nothing "to address the real issues of crime prevention, prosecution, or getting at the root causes of crime." Peters said Greitens is using members of the patrol "in what amounts to a political commercial to bolster his national image."
Greitens said the approach being used in St. Louis could eventually be expanded to Kansas City and other Missouri cities.