Mayor Tishaura Jones’ budget proposal would close a city jail, divert $4M from police to social programs and cut nearly 100 police jobs.
In St. Louis, Mo., the worst-in-country murder rate is at a 50-year high, the police department has nearly 100 unfilled jobs, and the mayor wants to defund the department and shut down a city jail.
St. Louis’ Tishaura Jones, who became the city’s first Black female mayor last month, had campaigned on a promise to enact progressive criminal justice reforms.
The head of the city’s corrections department is also on his way out. Jones announced his resignation last week, saying she hadn’t requested he step down but making clear she wasn’t satisfied with how he ran things.
Whatever the old administration was doing clearly wasn’t working – but it remains to be seen if police cuts are the answer.
In 1990s New York City, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani did the opposite, hiring more police, stepping up enforcement and locking away more felons – dramatically cleaning up crime in the Big Apple.
St. Louis had 87 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2020, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the worst rate in the country.
It’s now at its highest rate in 50 years – even as the population has dwindled in that same time period.
Some city officials have blamed the spike in violence on the coronavirus pandemic – which would follow the national trend, except St. Louis also led the country before COVID-19 in homicides per 100,000 in 2019 with 65.
For comparison, Baltimore saw the second-worst rate and also its highest on record in 2019 – with 57 per 100,000, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Interim City of St. Louis Director of Public Safety Daniel Isom explained the mayor’s plan this way:
“Funding a comprehensive approach to violent crime is the best approach to reducing murders. This requires both police and partnering agencies adequately funded to support victims and hold offenders accountable. It also requires target arrest and prosecutions to get murderers and shooters off the streets and not filling jails with nonviolent offenders.”
And Jones told the UK newspaper The Telegraph Tuesday that “more police doesn’t prevent crime.”
“We still have two separate police unions – one for Black police officers and one for White officers,” she told the outlet. “If they can’t trust each other, then how can they expect the public to trust them?”
The mayor’s proposal to slash funds from St. Louis police would redirect the money to social programs, an idea that she repeatedly embraced on the campaign trail. She has said that as many as half of city police calls can be handled by someone other than a law enforcement officer.
A proposed city budget for next year, which Jones announced in April, would cut $4 million from the police department and reallocate the funds to an affordable housing fund, victim support services, the city’s Department of Health and Human Services and Civil Rights Enforcement Agency, which investigates housing, equal employment and public accommodation complaints.
It also calls for the city to eliminate nearly 100 vacant police positions. No current officers would be laid off.
The budget proposal also contains zero funding for the city’s medium-security jail, known as “The Workhouse.”
“We don’t need two jails,” she told reporters after visiting both of the city’s lockups with Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., in April. “We need to move people through the system, we need to find alternatives to jails for some of the offenses.”