ST. LOUIS — Mayor Lyda Krewson, facing political pressure and a rising murder rate, agreed this week to another step toward cutting crime, this time pushing to hire the international crime reduction program Cure Violence.
Krewson sent a letter to Comptroller Darlene Green on Tuesday asking to invoke the comptroller’s emergency powers and execute a contract with the Chicago-based nonprofit group, bypassing the city’s lengthy contract selection process.
“Violence has become too common in our community,” Krewson’s letter reads. “Recent events have escalated the need to implement crime prevention alternatives.”
The city has been rattled by a streak of violence, with 126 homicides as of Wednesday, eight more than this time last year, including 11 children as young as 2 years old.
“Certainly these kids are not involved in any high-risk behavior,” Krewson said. “So everyone’s concerned about that. The police department is concerned. I’m concerned.”
Crime has been a focus of Krewson’s administration for two years. The police department has paired with federal agents as part of a strike force targeting gun crimes. Krewson is working to repeal the city’s residency requirement for police officers in an effort to boost recruitment. Police Chief John Hayden has identified three areas of the city, which he calls “rectangles,” for extra patrols and resources.
And on Wednesday, Krewson said she’d consider buying body cameras for police officers.
Cure Violence brings a novel approach to crime reduction: Train local residents in crisis intervention. Send them out into their own communities to change the hearts and minds of people at high risk of violence. And, ultimately, stop shootings before they occur.
The methodology can be effective, but on a hyperlocal scale and only if executed correctly, with the right people hired, said Caterina Roman, associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University. Roman studied the program in Philadelphia and found that shootings were reduced in the neighborhoods where efforts were focused.
“So many individuals are caught up in the street life who just need that last nudge and they almost have a foot out the door,” she said. “Cure Violence is really good with helping with that last nudge.”
It costs roughly $500,000 to operate one center employing seven or eight “violence interrupters” for one year, said Charlie Ransford, Cure Violence’s senior director of science and policy. A center of this size can reduce crime in a roughly 2-square-mile area.
Typically, Ransford said, the organization prefers that a city commits to three years of funding at once. But if St. Louis can only commit to one year for now, he said, Cure Violence will work with that.
“If you’re going into a community for a year, and then you pull out, you’re really leaving a lot of people with their needs unmet,” Ransford said.
The city has already allocated $500,000 in this year’s budget to launch a crime reduction program. Cure Violence representatives met with city leaders in June.
The city will still evaluate other crime reduction programs for a longer-term contract, Krewson said.
Green said through a representative that she does support launching Cure Violence in St. Louis, but she hasn’t yet seen a Cure Violence contract from the mayor.
Aldermanic President Lewis Reed said he is “really happy" to hear the mayor is on board with the idea of opening a Cure Violence center in a high crime area of the city.
“We’re also going to push for additional funding for Cure Violence,” Reed said. “We’ve been pushing this issue and trying to get this done for quite some time.”
Reed said he hopes to find another $700,000 in the budget, so that Cure Violence can launch two or three centers within troubled areas of north St. Louis.
Better Family Life Vice President of Community Outreach James Clark said his organization is willing to work with Cure Violence, which he said is very similar to Better Family Life’s own outreach and violence de-escalation effort.
“Better Family Life doesn’t care who gets the credit,” Clark said. “I want to see people live in peace. I want our neighborhoods to not be war zones.”