Sheena Greitens, wife of Governor-elect Eric Greitens, was robbed at gunpoint as she sat in her car outside a Central West End cafe. After she gave over her phone, purse and laptop, the assailants fled in a stolen vehicle. Police later captured the three — all in their teens. This happened in a well-lit and populated area of the city.
News of this event has prompted calls for an expanded police presence. The data-analysis website Neighborhood Scout places St. Louis among the top 10 most dangerous cities in America for violent crime and No. 3 in murder rates per 1,000 population.
A ballot initiative set for the April elections will ask St. Louis County voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to boost police and public safety funding. Voters must carefully scrutinize the language of that initiative to ensure that the money raised can only be used to fund new officers, increase salaries and specifically lead to improved law enforcement. Right now, funds raised by the measure could also benefit firefighters. Senate bill 349, pre filed for the 2017 legislative session, would permit a 1/8-cent sales tax to fund the St. Louis Zoo but nothing to fund additional police within the St. Louis city limits. I find this problematic.
Nationally violent crime is up. Some of this has been attributed to the “Ferguson effect” of police officers holding back and policing less due to stigma leveled on their profession after the rioting in Ferguson. Another possible reason is the misguided effort to push for criminal justice reform for violent offenders.
Many politicians, including recent presidential candidate Bernie Sanders proclaim that the United States has more people in jail than any other country on earth. According to the World Prison Population Brief, which supplies incarceration data to the United Nations, this is true. But upon closer examination, this “fact” omits certain details: Autocratic, kleptocratic and dictatorial countries self report. Without verification, we can safely assume their information is incomplete. They only report criminal incarcerations, not those imprisoned for political dissent and the like.
We do not have large numbers of American citizens who are “nonviolent offenders serving long sentences for drug crimes” as President Obama stated in 2015 to a Chicago audience. Justice Department data shows that in 2013 over 53 percent of state prisoners were incarcerated for violent crimes. Less than 16 percent of prisoners were there for drug offenses. The overwhelming majority of the drug offenders — 75 percent — were behind bars for selling and distributing drugs. Americans aren’t receiving long sentences for simple possession alone.
Contributing to the uptick in violent crime are those criminals given leniency under criminal justice reform programs who then go on to violently reoffend. One such program is Washington D.C.’s Youth Rehabilitation Act. A Washington Post investigation uncovered some inconvenient truths. Under this law, inexperienced criminals under age 22 are offered leniency in the form of shorter sentences and the possibility of having their records expunged. Instead of being a force to rehabilitate vulnerable youth, this program has enabled violent criminals to commit more crimes, The Washington Post reported.
Time and time again, judges in D.C. have given shorter sentences avoiding the prescribed mandatory minimums. The result has been disastrous: Among 3,188 young people resentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act since 2010, 121 have committed murder. Also of note: over the past 10 years, 750 criminal offenders have been sentenced more than once under the act, 200 of them for weapons offenses or violent acts.
Perhaps the offenders would have been better served with jail time so that actual rehabilitation in the form of education, job training and counseling could occur. Criminal justice reform should center on genuine rehabilitation efforts that yield results.
Being poor and having less-than-ideal conditions at home shouldn’t absolve one from personal responsibility. While I want to see more youth diverted from learning hardened criminal behaviors in prison, violent offenders must be punished to the fullest extent of the law as a deterrent.
Utilizing a law and order approach, funding more police and public safety measures and empowering police to lawfully do their jobs should be our chief aim in the wake of the persistently high crime rate in St. Louis.