My top priority is reducing the crime that impacts St. Louis County residents.
On Sept. 12, I wrote St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson telling her I would like 18 St. Louis County police officers to patrol MetroLink in the city and for county police commanders to take over the direction of security on the light-rail line. Last Tuesday, Mayor Krewson said in a radio interview that she could support the plan. The city’s Board of Aldermen is currently considering legislation that would allow the plan to move forward.
Here’s why I think this is important to do now and why I think it would work better than in the past.
The MetroLink train system is an example of a solution to a regional challenge. The system takes riders to and from St. Louis Lambert International Airport, the Clayton business district, universities, Busch Stadium, Enterprise Center, the Gateway Arch and Scott Air Force Base. It runs through St. Louis County, St. Louis city and St. Clair County, and taxpayers in each of those parts of our region help pay, though not evenly, for its operation and for the bus system that feeds it.
Currently, 110,000 city, county and Illinois residents get on trains and connecting buses every day to get to work or school. The economic activity generated by the system — getting people to work and school — is vital to our region.
But train ridership has been dropping at an alarming rate. The chief executive officer of Bi-State Development, Metro’s controlling body, tells us he understands that crime and the perception of crime are central to that drop, though he has not been able to convince me, major employers or riders that he can do anything about that now.
County residents have invested too much in Bi-State — $1.3 billion over the past 10 years alone — to wait.
Under my proposal, more police officers will be patrolling the system, both trains and stations, within the county and city. The boost in law enforcement presence will provide additional safety for county residents as they ride MetroLink into the city. But, more widely, it would allay the fears of all riders, and bring fast change to a system with an urgent public relations problem.
I’m confident in St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar’s ability, and he has assured me and the board of police commissioners that his department can take on this task without compromising other law enforcement efforts in the county. He will not be pulling our officers from other assignments in St. Louis County. The officers will be paid from transportation funds the county would otherwise pay to Bi-State.
With the county in charge, all the public safety agencies and contracted private security officers working along the MetroLink footprint will be communicating and working together to execute an agreed-upon plan, with all team members understanding their role: to create a safe riding experience.
Since 2016, county officers have worked diligently on the light-rail system. Officers have issued 8,800 summonses, made more than 3,400 arrests and seized 220 guns. Like with any of our officers performing good work, those assigned to the Metro are considered for advancement in our police department.
This offer to the city is part of my administration’s larger effort to lead the region in tackling violent crime while making real strides in criminal justice reform. While crime is certainly not limited to MetroLink, this is a good place to begin. Criminals do not respect geographical boundaries, so we must work on this together. My administration is in constant communication with Bi-State leadership. This is a significant and needed change.
Successful public transportation is vital to a part of our population that has no other options to get to school, a job or a job interview. Our economy depends on the 110,000 current workers and future workers who use public transportation every day. If that goes away, so do opportunities for some of our most vulnerable residents. Without opportunity, without offering a path to a good job and a better future, crime —the underlying cause of which is poverty — will continue to fester; our region will suffer.
While we rightly celebrate the many great achievements of our region, and there are many, let’s work together to address our region’s challenges. A safe public transit system is one of those challenges and this proposal is a better way of addressing it than what we have been doing. St. Louis County police are ready to start — as soon as the city agrees.
Sam Page is the St. Louis County executive.