FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, ILL –(KMOX)–Federal and state prosecutors are calling for a radical change in the way East St. Louis and neighboring towns are policed — branding the region “a no man’s land” of high crime and corruption.
The revelation came during a news conference on the guilty plea of former East St. Louis and Alorton Police Chief Michael Baxton, who had admitted stealing X-Box gaming systems and lying about it to federal investigators.
The U.S. Attorney and State’s Attorney complained that high crime, corruption and dysfunctional police departments in the region are “beyond a solution from prosecutors.”
“We are looking at the development of a no-man’s land in certain parts of these communities where there is a complete lack of credible law enforcement,” said St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, “and the people that live there, their safety is in peril.”
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton says he met with Department of Justice officials in D.C. earlier this month to discuss the inability of local law enforcement to respond to violent crime in East St. Louis and Washington Park.
“It has the highest crime rate in the nation,” Wigginton said, “Second place isn’t even close.”
In East St. Louis, Wigginton noted the murder rate is 100 to every 100,000 residents — “twenty times the national average.”
In nearby Washington Park, population 3,000, he says seven people were recently shot and killed in a six week period.
“They had ten other people who survived gunshot wounds,” Wigginton said, “So, seventeen people shot in six weeks in a town of three thousand? I would call that lawlessness.”
Wigginton says he has briefed Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk about the need to make sweeping changes in the way Metro-East is policed.
“And whether that involves bringing in the Illinois State Police or forming a metropolitan police department, combining all of these cities, that’s all on the table,” Wigginton said.
State’s Attorney Kelly agreed, calling existing police departments in the Metro-East “dysfunctional.”
“In the current regime, the current setup of these small towns with their law enforcement which is completely under-funded, completely lacking in discipline in many ways, completely lacking in some of the basic tenants you need to run a police department,” Kelly said, “That’s got to change.”
The two prosecutors added that several corruption probes remain “ongoing” in area towns. Kelly says the lack of credibility in many Metro-East police departments has hindered prosecution, making it difficult to present cases that rely on the testimony of officers to make a case.