Five attorneys from the Missouri Attorney General's office are now turning their attention to violent crime in St. Louis, and a few more will soon take on similar tasks in Missouri's two other largest cities.
A swearing-in ceremony was Thursday for assistant attorneys general who will work as special assistant U.S. attorneys in St. Louis. It is part of the "Safer Streets Initiative," launched by Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen in January.
Two or three attorneys from Schmitt's staff will take on a similar role in Kansas City and one in Springfield, probably by June, after completion of background checks, Schmitt said at a news conference in St. Louis.
He cited statistics showing that violent crime in Missouri has risen 19 percent since 2007, and said the three cities often rank among the nation's most violent.
"All you have to do is turn on the news every night and see that we've got a lot of challenges," Schmitt said.
The special U.S. attorneys will prosecute a variety of cases but focus on homicides, gun crimes and carjackings. Jensen has said they could handle up to 250 additional prosecutions each year.
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.
"We've seen and we continue to see how violent crime plagues this community," said Jennifer Szczucinski, one of the newly-appointed special U.S. attorneys. "It tears apart families, it tears apart communities, it tears apart neighborhoods."
The new effort initially will 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.
Federal prosecutors have taken on an increasing number of homicide and gun crime cases as part of focus aimed at curtailing violent crime in recent years in St. Louis, relieving some of the case load from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's office.