ST. LOUIS (KMOX)- While homicides are down 15 percent in the city of St. Louis so far in 2012, the number of shootings is up 12 percent, and according to the Police Department’s Special Operations Unit Commander, the culture of violence is intensifying.
Captain Ronnie Robinson tells KMOX, “A lot of kids are born into a situation, from the time they come out of their mother’s womb, in certain neighborhoods, they’re fighting for survival.”
LISTEN: Brian Kelly’s full interview with St. Louis Police Department Special Operations Unit Commander Captain Ronnie Robinson
Robinson says that in those neighborhoods young kids just walking to the store have to pass groups of youths and gangs. He says that forces them, at a very young age, to make a life and death decision, “‘Do I want to join this clique, this gang, this group, or do I want to fight every day?”
He says living in that fear, makes it hard for young people to focus on education and doing the right thing.
Robinson says with the availability of guns, youths are using them to settle personal disputes, “If you have a street fight and you lose it, to keep your street credibility now you have to take it to another level and weapons are usually involved.”
He says it’s no better if you win the fight, “You gotta worry about the guy coming back and seeking revenge with a weapon.”
Robinson says recent history has also brought us to this point, “It’s the result of our neighborhoods, our inner cities, being infested with crack cocaine and other illegal drugs over the past 30 years.”
Robinson says many of the guns being used are either stolen or bought by straw buyers, people without criminal backgrounds who can buy them legally and then sell them on the streets. He says many of the stolen guns were left in cars by licensed gun owners, “They don’t have the right training as far as how to maintain their weapon and conceal their weapon in a proper space or when they’re traveling and they can’t go in venues that don’t allow you to carry your weapon. They leave them in their cars and these individuals, they break in cars and they steal a lot of weapons out of cars.”
As for suburban residents who consider the violence a city problem, Robinson says they’re mistaken, “Individuals that are committing crimes feel safer committing crimes in vehicles and traveling from their neighborhoods and going out to other different neighborhoods to commit crimes and then returning to the neighborhoods in which they live.”
Robinson says one key to ending the culture of violence is getting the residents of those neighborhoods, and the kids themselves, to trust the police. He says his unit is taking an aggressive approach to build that trust, “I’m up close and personal getting out in the street every day, and my people are out on the streets every day making relationships and building a rapport with the people that live in the neighborhoods and encouraging them to call us and letting them know they can trust us. We’ll keep them anonymous relative to giving us information to help us stop this violence.
“We have to focus on those areas and get out here and communicate with those kids and let them know there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you make some good solid decisions it’s going to move you in the right direction.”
He says they’re also working with local groups and other agencies to give young people hope, “When we do come in contact with these kids, trying to encourage them not to choose a life of criminal activity, we have to have resources to offer them. We’re working with other agencies to offer jobs, education and training programs.”
He says his unit is also using intelligent policing to stop shootings before they happen, “We’re not just going out and at random, stopping people every day. We’re hunting and we’re policing and we’re going after the right people, the people that are consistently involved in crime.”
Robinson says he is confident his unit can change the culture of violence, “I’m tired of the city of St. Louis being considered one of the most dangerous cities in the United States per capita.”
He says you can help by calling the police any time you see anything suspicious or unusual in your neighborhood, “Anything that raises the hair on the back of your neck or unsettles your stomach, you just don’t feel right about it, just call the police.”