You may have read in the November 18, 2022, St. Louis Post-Dispatch an article entitled “St. Louis County police departments pursue auto-theft task force.” (Here’s the link to that article.) I would like to provide a little background for the subject matter of this article. For a number of years, we have lived with the fact that criminals are coming through our neighborhoods in the early morning hours trying to steal items from cars. Police refer to this as “car clotting.” However, the last few years we have witnessed a change from a lone individual to a more organized group effort: cars with four or five armed people coming into our residential neighborhoods trying to steal either cars or guns. The Brentwood Police Department has been urging our residents to 1) lock their cars, 2) remove valuables and 3) never, ever confront these individuals. Our police tell us to call 911 and let them, the professionals, deal with these criminals.
Over the last few months, we have noticed an increase in daytime, gun-related crime in the communities throughout St. Louis County. Brentwood is not immune to these crimes. For example, on July 24, 2022, we had two incidents where guns were displayed by criminals to residents in the middle of the day. The brazenness of these crimes is concerning to me because of the greater probability of confrontation between the criminals and our residents. We don’t need to look any further than Richmond Heights where, in September, a homeowner came out of his house to confront criminals trying to break into a car. The criminals took off but fired shots at the resident, striking his house and a neighbor’s house. Another neighbor came out of her house and fired at the thieves, hitting another neighbor’s house. We need to take real, concrete action now before someone gets seriously hurt or even worse.
Following that day in July, I approached the mayors of Florissant and Bridgeton about their experiences with these types of crimes and whether they would be interested in working together trying to find a solution. They agreed, and with that we were off and running to try and address these brazen crimes. What we learned from those initial discussions was that the current “model” of policing these types of crimes simply isn’t effective. For example, when one of our Brentwood officers responds to a car full of these criminals, our officer will attempt to pull them over. Almost every single time, the criminals flee to another municipality. While that is effective in getting them out of Brentwood, we’re simply pushing the problem to Ladue or Richmond Heights or Maplewood. Those departments are doing the same thing. We need a model where the police can finally apprehend the criminals. After conversations with some police chiefs, the opinion was that mimicking St. Charles County’s practice of forming a “countywide task force” would be the most effective because it would supply sufficient police staff to finally apprehend these armed and dangerous criminals.
The mayors of Bridgeton, Florissant and I, along with Pat Kelly (the Executive Director of the Municipal League of Metropolitan St. Louis) met with the Lake St. Louis police chief, who was instrumental in forming St. Charles’ task force. Thereafter, we were invited to present our concerns and share our ideas with the St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association monthly meeting, where I spoke about the change we’re seeing in the inner-ring communities.
Following these meetings, it became clear that this simply wasn’t a “policing” issue but would require a commitment from the police, the prosecuting attorney’s office, the juvenile division and the courts. To that end, I arranged a meeting with the St. Louis County Circuit Court presiding judge, the St. Louis County family law judge, the St. Louis County Court Administrator as well as the Chief Juvenile Officer. We had a very productive discussion and are scheduled to meet again to further the discussion. At the following Executive Board meeting of the Municipal League, we decided to form a committee to pursue this task force. That committee is comprised of the mayors of Creve Coeur, Florissant, Bridgeton, Clayton and Brentwood. On November 13, 2022, the members of that committee, along with the Municipal League’s Executive Director and 12 police chiefs, met with the Director of Public Safety for Missouri to discuss our objective and seek funding possibilities.
We still have lots of work to do but with each meeting we're learning more and crystalizing the issue. I hope to have more to report in the coming months of real progress toward addressing these types of crimes.