A leading figure in anti-crime efforts in St. Louis says the region has 18 months to get violent crime under control before it hits a skid that it’s “never seen before.”
“We have been naive for a very long time here,” James Clark, vice president of community outreach at Better Family Life, said Monday. “But the national perception of St. Louis is very, very dire. Corporations are not looking to come here. We are losing conventions. And the No. 1 reason is because of our crime and violence.”
Clark made his prediction in front of regional business leaders, local and state politicians and public safety officials who had gathered at the federal courthouse downtown to announce another investment in Clark’s group.
The St. Louis Crime Commission announced Monday that it was donating $200,000 to Better Family Life. That’s on top of about $118,000 the agency received last month from two other corporate groups. Clark said he’ll use the funds to hire an additional 13 outreach workers who help stop conflicts before they lead to gun violence. He appreciated the corporate support.
“But family, we have to do more,” he said. “I believe that in order to give us the necessary wedge in our more high-crime neighborhoods, we need 50 outreach workers, and it must be sustained.”
Failing to get the violence under control, he said, means the region will “continue to be overlooked, and our economic progress will continue to be measurably diminished.”
Better Family Life began the so-called de-escalation centers in December 2016, and the agency says it’s successfully worked to resolve 83 conflicts since then.
Kathy Osborne, the head of the Regional Business Council, said the recent donations were not driven by Clark’s dire predictions, or worries about St. Louis’ reputation.
“I think what’s unique last year, which I have found that’s carrying through this year, is this unique collaboration,” she said. You have people coming together that I’m not sure came together like they’ve come before.”
Ed Dowd, president of the St. Louis Crime Commission, said he plans to push the commission to come up with “substantially more money” for another initiative of Clark’s called Clean Sweep, which tears down vacant buildings in high-crime areas.
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