County Executive Sam Page revives St. Louis County crime commission

ST. LOUIS COUNTY — County Executive Sam Page’s dormant crime commission will begin meeting later this month after halting operations during the pandemic.

The commission, called the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, first reconvened in September 2019 after about 40 years of inactivity. The council aims to create a countywide plan that improves law enforcement and criminal justice through approaches outlined in a county ordinance, including finding funding for public safety programs and monitoring county initiatives.

“I look at the commission as an opportunity to work as one to address the county’s top issue, the one that we invest the most in — public safety,” Page said Wednesday morning.

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Under a 1976 county ordinance, the commission is made up of the county executive, the county council’s chair, the prosecuting attorney, the police chief, the director of justice services, the presiding judge, an elected municipal official and two county residents. Page noted that while the commission ceased meetings when the pandemic hit in early 2020, talks between departments did not.

As of Wednesday, commission members include: Page; Council Chairwoman Shalonda Webb; Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell; Police Chief Ken Gregory; Presiding Judge Mary Ott; director of Justice Services Scott Anders; Jennings Mayor Yolanda Austin; and St. Louis county resident Erin Kelley.

The commission’s second resident position has not yet been filled, said Page’s spokesman Doug Moore.

The 1976 ordinance outlines the commission’s responsibility to coordinate all law enforcement and criminal justice activities in the county “to prevent fragmentation of police, judicial and correction agencies.”

Though the ordinance was passed almost five decades ago, county officials said in 2019 they did not have any record of the body ever holding a meeting. A Post-Dispatch story in 1976 said the county’s board was set up, but the last mention of the body in the newspaper’s archives was in 1979.

Page said Wednesday, and also in 2019, that he was motivated to reconvene the commission after he walked around the scene in Jennings where 3-year-old Rodney March fatally shot himself and Page asked himself, “Why is this happening?”

Page said the commission will be guided by two major reports: a review of the county police department published in December 2020 by consultant company Teneo and an outside audit of the jail in July 2022 by Miami-based criminal justice consulting firm CGL.

Teneo found the police department did not have a comprehensive plan to address crime, causing crime rates to persist and leaving the department “constantly in ‘fire-fighting’ mode.” And while CGL found the negative perception of the jail was unjustified and driven by media reports, it recommended ways to overcome what it saw as the facility’s biggest hurdle — low staffing.

“Public safety is the overarching priority of good government,” Page said, noting the county has committed another $47 million in federal funds to improve crime prevention, cyberterrorism, police training and evidence handling.

The commission’s first monthly meeting will be at 10 a.m. Feb. 23.

“We know there are too many guns on the street, and the efforts to put responsible gun control measures in place continue to be blocked by the NRA and their supporters in Washington,” Page said. “But we can have our own efforts here at the local level. We can hold gun owners who are not responsible accountable, and we can make sure that we are doing everything possible to make sure people are not obtaining guns illegally.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch tracks the data behind reported homicides on an interactive map that allows readers to explore information in various ways.

Explore the homicide tracker.

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