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St. Louis police start initiative to stabilize crime-ridden neighborhoods

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 | 8:57 p.m. CDT; updated 9:33 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Police Department on Tuesday announced an initiative aimed at stopping the city’s spiraling homicides and stabilizing crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Chief Joe Mokwa said the strategy includes saturating targeted neighborhoods on the city’s north side, enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew for children 17 and younger, and gathering crime intelligence from residents.

And, to emphasize their presence in the community, police are conducting officer roll call on the streets of problem neighborhoods instead of at headquarters. They’re also working out of a visible mobile command center, which is moved daily among various neighborhoods.

The initiative combines the efforts of the Police Department’s crime-suppression unit, gang squad, juvenile department and mobile reserve.

Since the “homicide deterrence initiative” began Thursday, police said they have made 92 arrests, recovered 14 firearms and found 53 curfew violators — and encountered no homicides. Federal marshals arrested 31 more.

Police say they hope removing gang leaders and the most violent offenders will create more-peaceful neighborhoods.

“I tell my officers, ‘make sure the good people see us, and the bad people feel us,’” Mokwa said at a news conference in one of the targeted neighborhoods.

Mokwa said while overall crime in the city is down 14 percent compared with last year, homicides have risen to “deeply concerning” levels.

So far this year, St. Louis has had 89 homicides. That’s 24 more than last year at this time. Overall in 2007, the city had 138 homicides.

Mokwa said police have devoted every resource they have to 12 targeted neighborhoods, stabilizing them with intensified patrols and “surgically removing those who are violent.” Those neighborhoods account for one-fourth of this year’s homicides.

He said residents have been receptive and have come forward with crime tips.

After two weeks, police will consider whether it’s necessary to stay, move to other neighborhoods or do both.

Many of the homicide victims and suspects are young black men in their teens to mid-20s, police said. Disputes are about girlfriends, disrespect or lack of education, jobs or hope, Mokwa said.

The city recently hosted a job fair in these neighborhoods, Mokwa said, noting that unemployment and lack of hope in impoverished communities are something “the community needs to talk about.”

The city has struggled to reduce its murder rate, both to save lives and deflect the unwelcome attention such statistics bring.

Earlier this year, St. Louis-area black men launched the faith-based campaign, “A Call to Oneness,” which stands against violence by good example and intervening with troubled youth.

Bobby Shaw, who was selling roasted peanuts for $2 a bag a few feet from the news conference, has lived in the neighborhood most of his 54 years.

“You got to live in it to understand,” he said.

“We need police on foot, walking the beats and on horses like they used to do. All this air-conditioned luxury, by the time they park and get out of the car, they’re gone.”


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