ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–A city of guns, gangs and deadly grudges awaits whoever gets picked to be the new police chief.
With the city expected to hit 200 murders this year, the homicide rate was up 11 percent for the year through November–and with some 2,500 gun crimes, gun assaults are up 24 percent for the year.
Whoever gets the badge to be the next police chief faces a city of rising violent crime and many citizens who distrust the police.
Criminologist Professor Beth Huebner of the University of Missouri St. Louis has studied violent crime here for fifteen years.
“Whoever gets the job, I think it’s just important to get out and speak with the community, to speak with citizens and work on that trust, so people can understand that if the police come, they’re going to help,” Huebner said.
An optimist, Huebner says the slide toward violent crime in the past few years can be reversed, but she has some advice for the new chief.
“I think we need to focus on not just responding to homicides and gun crimes,” Huebner said, “but also looking at prevention. Who are people linked to? How can we link people and guns together to break up some of these long term beefs or masculine issues that we see on the streets of St. Louis?”
Huebner says the new chief would do well to track the victims of non-fatal shootings, because often the survivor launches a quest for revenge that sparks more shootings and killings.
Also, she says there needs to be a strong commitment to processing ballistics evidence–to tie together different shootings done with the same gun over time.
And she says if the new chief is an out-of-towner, he needs to understand the neighborhood nature of local crime–that St. Louis gangs are not franchises of out-of-town gangs.
“We don’t see LA gangs. We don’t see New York gangs, or things like that,” Huebner said. “We see loosely-connected, young–primarily men, but also women as well–who are tied to their neighborhood. And that’s where we see a lot of this retaliatory violence.”
On a positive note, Huebner says gun violence is actually down from fifteen years ago, and many other categories of non-violent crime are down. She takes disputes anyone who thinks it will never get better.
“I completely disagree. I love St. Louis and I see a bright future for us. I think the police department can’t solve this problem by themselves. We need business members, we need community members as well. But I think that we can reduce crime, because we have done it in the past.”
Six finalists were scheduled for job interviews last Friday with the mayor and director of public safety. Of the six, three are from within the department, four are black, two are white, and one is a woman. The city hopes to name a new chief by the first of the year.