The resignation of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, and the appointment of Gabe Gore to replace her by Gov. Mike Parson, is a step in the right direction in our region’s problem with crime. But there’s much more to do. As I’ve often said lately, Garner leaving will stop the bleed, but it won’t heal the wound.
We have been in much need of a plan to work as a regional team, and I believe that we now can begin to get somewhere. The region’s leaders agree on that and met recently for a regional crime summit organized by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. I was encouraged that local political and law enforcement leaders, and business and educational executives gathered to discuss the escalating violence and number of murders.
Some may see this as just a St. Louis City problem because that’s where most of the crimes are being committed. But while St. Charles County’s crime rate is the lowest in the region (see graph), 70 percent of our criminals are from outside our county. As a region, we must work together to find a solution, but as a county, we must continue to be vigilant.
In St. Charles County, we are diligent and tougher on crime than our surrounding communities. Long-term programs and solutions are important but finding a way to get a handle on problems and dangers occurring right now will help us move toward those goals. The County has set a prime example of tackling the immediate issue of auto thefts and break-ins.
After an increase in auto thefts and auto break-ins in 2020, we initiated the Criminal Interdiction Task Force (CITF) in early 2021. The St. Charles County Police Department is joined by police departments in the cities of St. Charles, St. Peters, O’Fallon, Lake Saint Louis, Wentzville and Cottleville, as well as the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department and Department of Corrections. Prosecuting Attorney Joe McCulloch is committed to mandatory jail time for those found guilty.
The officers use various tactics to alert to stolen cars and to watch for and apprehend thieves who usually operate in small groups. We serve as a model for the rest of the region. St. Louis County, Maryland Heights and Chesterfield police departments have adopted the operational plan and are running their operations in conjunction with the St. Charles County CITF.
From 2021 to 2022, auto thefts decreased by 37 percent, and auto break-ins by 35 percent. Operations continue, and from February 2021 through May 2023, 948 offenders have been arrested, 30 stolen vehicles recovered, and 74 guns seized or recovered. The Prosecuting Attorney’s office reports that 636 vehicle criminals have been prosecuted or are awaiting prosecution.
More than likely, you’ve read that our lawmakers in Jefferson City were having discussions about how to reduce crime in St. Louis, including returning control of the City of St. Louis police to the state. While nothing was passed this year, I’m happy the lawmakers had a serious debate on the topic. The city has a chance to fix this, and the region’s leaders have made it clear we are all willing to help. In the meantime, we need to, and will, continue to do everything we can to keep St. Charles County safe.