September 12, 2012In the aftermath of the Aug. 18 murder of St. Louis University alumna Megan Boken as she sat in a parked car at the corner of Maryland and Taylor avenues, resident Judy Weber said she still feels safe working and living in the Central West End.
Weber made her comment following an hour-long discussion by law enforcement officials and neighborhood residents about measures being taken to reduce violent crime. The Aug. 29 gathering was organized by the Central West End Neighborhood Security Initiative (NSI) and was held at the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library.
More than 120 people heard St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Dan Isom report an increase in aggravated assaults with firearms in the CWE and other parts of the city during the first three months of 2012. He acknowledged a problem with shootings, along with an increase in robberies throughout St. Louis.
Isom reminded residents to be aware of their surroundings, and not to take chances with their safety.
Isom said he convinced a former gang unit commander to return and help lead the department's Special Operations Unit. That unit has now implemented a "targeted approach" to crime.
"We wanted to look at all the individuals out there based on the information that we had, who we believe have a high propensity to commit this type of violence," Isom said.
Since March 2012, the special unit has compiled a list of about 200 people who police believe are causing most of the crime problems, Isom said.
Additionally, a "big, massive surge" of about 100 officers has been deployed to attack those "hot spots" where crime has been occurring. To accommodate that surge, Isom said there has been a significant shift in personnel and scheduling of patrols in both the CWE and all of St. Louis.
"We believe, in the long term, that's going to be the best strategy for getting control of this spike in crime," Isom said. "Although this happened in the Central West End, crime is an issue that we have to attack throughout the city of St. Louis."
During a question-and-answer session, Isom assured the crowd that if police wanted to suspend the Constitution and frisk everyone they encountered during the surge, "we could end this real fast," but that comment drew an uproarious response from the crowd.
Jim Whyte, executive director of the Neighborhood Crime Initiative, told the crowd that NSI contracts with two private security companies that employ off-duty St. Louis police officers. The officers patrol the CWE on bicycles and have made 81 arrests since January 2012, Whyte said. The security companies are paid through funds generated by special business districts within the CWE and the Washington University School of Medicine.
In addition, the NSI is attempting to step up its video camera monitoring capabilities from five existing cameras to 21, Whyte said. They are also trying to identify privately-owned cameras in the area to augment NSI security efforts.
Capt. Jim Moran, commander of the city's 9th District which takes in the CWE, said a Neighborhood Crime Reduction Team has been formed in his district. He said the team, made up of five officers and one sergeant, will work the "hot spots we identify and deal with the crime and get the guys responsible for the issues."
Weber, who lives on West Pine Boulevard, said the real problem with crime in the city seems to be in the proliferation of illegal guns. Still, Weber said she feels save in her neighborhood.
"I live in a building that is keyed and is very safe," Weber said. "I have a parking garage that's keyed and I do feel safe. I work in a shop on McPherson Avenue and I've never really been afraid. I've seen the bike patrol and, after what happened to the girl from St. Louis University, I've seen a huge presence here."
NSI meetings are held the fourth Wednesday of the month, 5:30 p.m., at the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 225 N. Euclid Ave. Scheduled guest speakers at the Sept. 26 meeting are expected to include judges from the 22nd Judicial Court in St. Louis.