By JIM SALTER , Associated Press
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Missouri attorney general’s office is partnering with the U.S. attorney’s office in St. Louis to address high rates of violent crime in St. Louis.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen announced details of the “Safer Streets” initiative at a news conference Tuesday.
“As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I cannot stand idly by as our communities and lives are torn apart by violence and when people feel unsafe,” Schmitt, a native of St. Louis County, said.
The plan calls for three to five attorneys from Schmitt’s office to be deputized as assistant U.S. attorneys to help prosecute violent crimes such as homicides and carjackings in the St. Louis region.
St. Louis city has one of the nation’s highest murder rates even though the number dropped last year. The city had 187 homicides in 2018, compared to 205 in 2017. The city also recorded 375 carjackings in 2018 — more than one each day.
Schmitt said the effort will initially focus on an area of north St. Louis where violent crime is rampant, but the prosecutors also will be available for cases elsewhere in the city and in St. Louis County, which also has seen a spike in homicides in recent years. The county had 60 homicides last year, up from 55 in 2017 and 38 in 2016.
U.S. Attorney Eric Jensen called the partnership “unprecedented” and that the new attorneys will allow for 150 to 250 additional federal prosecutions each year.
Jensen said many murder cases can be prosecuted in federal court rather than state court — for example, killings involving a drug conspiracy.
The U.S. attorney’s office in recent years has taken on an increasing number of homicide and gun crime cases as part of focus aimed at curtailing violent crime. Schmitt said it’s an issue of vital importance to St. Louis.
“Too often this region’s image is defined by homicides, robberies and carjackings,” he said.
Schmitt said he also has met with St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, police chief John Hayden, and St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell to discuss ways to make the region safer.