Written by Jennifer M. Joyce, circuit attorney for the City of St. Louis
The landscape in St. Louis and across the country is very different today than it was even just a year ago. Gun violence is the number one issue this community faces today. Too many people are dying.
In 2014, 138 people were murdered by someone with a gun. Ten months into this year, we have already surpassed that number. These are lives lost. The hundreds of people who have survived being shot carry the physical and emotional scars for a lifetime. Families altered. Tears shed. This is unacceptable. Our city deserves better. Our community has suffered enough from the devastating effects of gun violence.
This is a public health issue, a public safety issue, and an economic issue for all of us, regardless of where you live in the city. To stem the tide, our community needs an aggressive and collaborative approach to reducing violent crime, and that’s exactly what the City of St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office (CAO) has been focused on for the last year. After a listening tour of prosecutors around the country in search of best practices, the CAO decided to pursue a multi-platform approach to specifically combating gun violence.
The office has implemented multiple initiatives to remove the most dangerous offenders from the streets, redirect select offenders off a criminal path and build the resolve of the community against gun crime.
We invite you to join the fight. We believe this great city is worth it.
The CAO has joined together on Mission SAVE (Strike Against Violence Early) with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), U.S. Attorney’s Office, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD), Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. We also have been working with the Board of Probation and Parole, City of St. Louis, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), St. Louis Initiative to Reduce Violence (SIRV) and the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition. All of those organizations have come together to implement a focused deterrence intervention for our region. Focused deterrence is a crime-fighting collaboration of law enforcement, community mobilization and social service actions designed to focus law enforcement and social service efforts on the relatively small number of individuals responsible for the greatest amount of violent criminal activity in the city.
We are also working to determine the social networks of these individuals and to map criminal activity and gang affiliations for prosecution. These individuals are notified of enhanced enforcement efforts targeted at them and their networks. They will also receive information regarding social and other services to assist them in choosing an alternative path for themselves and their families that does not involve violent criminal activity. If they don’t choose to accept the help offered to them and, instead, continue with their criminal lifestyle, there will be swift and certain consequences to hold them accountable. If they choose to accept the resources, we will support them.
The redirection and re-entry of offenders who are charged and/or convicted of crimes in the city is the focus of the Special Programs Division. The CAO acts as a key facilitator, collaborator and connector of external resources and social services that help enable violators to get out and stay out of the criminal justice system. Initiatives include a gun diversion program, low-level crime diversion, drug court and social services resource facilitation.
Individuals have already been accepted into the program and are pursuing diversion in the Misdemeanor Redirect Program. These individuals have been carefully chosen based on select criteria and are given a unique chance to right their wrongs and take a different path in life—a path away from crime.
When crime stories lead the evening news night after night, it can be a challenge for any of us to avoid tuning out the numbing violence. Community involvement is a key crime-fighting tool in creating safe neighborhoods, regardless of where one lives in the city. That’s why prosecutors at the CAO have taken a proactive approach to fostering resolve in the community. The Community Partnerships Bureau works to increase community engagement, education and communication, while promoting the sharing of information between the criminal justice system and the community. Initiatives include participation in focused deterrence, the Neighborhood Ownership Model, a gun violence website, as well as working with state and local lawmakers to ensure we have the laws we need to protect the community.
Criminals fear neighborhoods that don’t tolerate crime. Safe neighborhoods do not merely look to government agencies to fix problems; instead, they leverage government resources as their partners in developing joint solutions. The Neighborhood Ownership Model is a citizen-led program that is supported by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the Office of the Mayor to help neighbors work together to develop initiatives to utilize their own collective power in keeping their streets safe.
The CAO’s recently launched website, StLouisGunCrime.com, examines the ripple effects of gun violence on families and our community. Visitors to the site can find resources, statistics, and stories of the often unheard voices of gun violence from victims, families, and perpetrators who want to help the community understand the human consequences of gun violence. Gun violence has a face and it’s the face of our neighbors, the people we pass in the grocery store, the classmates of our children.
Linking citizens to prevention programs is essential to combating the root causes of gun violence for long-term community safety. The website also acts as a connector between the community and resources aimed at creating a better St. Louis. Video profiles of local organizations working to make a difference in our community are featured on the website. Ideas on what you can do to help combat gun violence are also available.
We know there are families hurting, businesses suffering and children growing up unnecessarily surrounded by gun violence. Arrests and prosecutions alone will not prevent the issue of gun violence in our community. We believe there are innovative and realistic solutions that have the power to combat the rising and overwhelming tide of gun violence in St. Louis. We invite you to join the fight. We believe this great city is worth it.