The mayor of St. Louis, Missouri, wants to defund the police department and close the local jail while the city has the highest murder rate in the country.
St. Louis had 87 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2020, which is the worst murder rate in the nation, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in January.
The figure exceeded the previous top rate of 69 homicides set in 1993 when the soaring number of killings made local and national headlines. 262 total killings over the last year also brought the city's homicide rate 30 percent higher than any of the past 50 years, although the population dwindled in that same time period.
While city officials have blamed the spike on the COVID-19 pandemic, which would follow the national trend, except St. Louis also led the country before the public health crisis in homicides per 100,000 in 2019 with 65, Fox News reported.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, who became the city's first black female mayor last month, had promised on the 2021 campaign trail to enact progressive criminal justice reforms. Jones had vowed to reinstate the role of deputy mayor for racial equity, work to decriminalize sex work, and require the city to view decision-making and expanded economic opportunities through the lens of racial equity.
Commissioner Dale Glass is also stepping down from his position as the head of the city's corrections department. Jones announced Glass's resignation on May 12, noting that she didn't request the official's departure set for the end of the month, but indicated that she wasn't satisfied with how he ran the corrections division.
The city's interim public safety director Daniel Isom said that the best approach to reduce murders requires targeted arrests and prosecutions to "get murderers and shooters off the streets" and "not filling jails with nonviolent offenders."
Jones told The Telegraph 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 British outlet last Tuesday. "If they can't trust each other, then how can they expect the public to trust them?"
The mayor's proposal to defund the St. Louis police budget would reallocate money to social programs. She has said that as many as half of city police calls can be handled by someone other than an officer.
Jones announced in April via press release that the city budget proposal for next year would cut $4 million from the police department and redirect 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.
Jones thanked the city's comptroller Darlene Green for supporting the initiative to "begin investing in the root causes of crime." Jones claimed that the $4 million allocation will help the city be "proactive and put the public back in public safety."
The proposal also calls for St. Louis to eliminate almost 100 vacant police positions, stipulating that no current officers would be laid off.
The proposed city budget also contains zero funding for the city's medium-security jail, known as "The Workhouse." Jones told reporters after visiting both of the city's lockups with Missouri Rep. Cori Bush in April: "We don't need two jails." Jones argued, "We need to move people through the system, we need to find alternatives to jails for some of the offenses." While the old administration's law enforcement practices were not working, police cuts don't seem to be the answer.