One year ago last week, Gov. Mike Parson appointed a new director of public safety, Col. Sandy Karsten. In announcing her appointment, he said she’d help “combat gun violence in St. Louis and Kansas City,” and he assured Missourians that “one of the first things I’ll ask her to do is … see if there’s ways that we can help.”
Governor, it’s time to make good on your promise. This summer, we’ve seen scores of gun homicides with more than a dozen of those fatalities being children. Nearly every day, fresh horrors fill newspaper front pages while desks in grade school classrooms go unfilled. As frayed first responders try to triage the trauma, it is time the state deliver the help it promised.
The first and most immediate step: deploy the Missouri Highway Patrol into the city limits. City leaders have requested it and, as the St. Louis police department struggles with serious staffing shortages, the city needs every uniformed law enforcement body it can get on the streets.
Highway patrol officers are uniquely positioned to help. First, their presence on state highways in St. Louis will free up much-needed time and energy for local police. Having the highway patrol to handle accidents and violence that occur on highways would allow city officers to focus their attention in neighborhoods, working to keep communities safe.
Second, the highway patrol can deploy experienced investigators from its Division of Drug and Crime Control. Those investigators can augment the city’s own and, ideally, they can work together to solve the city’s most pressing cases. The city’s homicide unit has been woefully understaffed, and as Sgt. Heather Taylor of the Ethical Society of Police observed, bringing that caseload down to more manageable levels would potentially increase arrest rates.
Third, the Missouri Highway Patrol could join regional task forces specifically focused on violent crime and drugs. Local and federal officials have routinely asked the highway patrol to have a permanent presence on these task forces. And if they did, St. Louis would gain valuable perspective and additional access to state resources. As we’ve seen in other cities, these collaborations reduce violent crime.
Deploying the highway patrol wouldn’t solve all of St. Louis’ problems but would be an important and necessary first step, setting an important precedent for city-state cooperation.
As a lifelong public safety official, I can say with confidence that we won’t arrest our way out of this problem. Fixing the root causes of violence will take the full breadth of our resources and skills — not just more badges on the streets. That’s why St. Louis city leaders ought to ask for help from various state agencies.
The Department of Social Services could work with city schools on programs to minimize truancy. The Department of Mental Health could offer additional de-escalation and crisis training to law enforcers. The Department of Corrections could ramp up the work of its Gang Task Force and its high-risk violent offender program. The Department of Economic Development could prioritize grants and workforce programs for the region. The list of potential city-state partnerships is long and meaningful.
The broader point is: Those state resources are available to us today. They don’t require a special session. They don’t require a blue ribbon commission. They don’t require more funding. They only require the governor and his cabinet to take action.
Historically, the state has stayed out of city public safety efforts, but we can’t let outdated models guide the response to today’s urgent needs. Too many children are dead in our streets, and too many potential solutions stare us in the face. We owe it to those residents living in daily fear to do something. We owe it to our understaffed and overworked first responders to do something. And most of all, we owe it to the children of St. Louis and their families to do something.
Gov. Parson, you promised us help. Now it’s time to keep your promise.
Gregg Favre is former deputy director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety and a former St. Louis City fire captain. He is a lifelong St. Louis city resident.