Police Chief Jerry Simon wants things to change in the city of East St. Louis, and he has a plan to make that happen in 2018.
With 35 homicides and almost 1,500 calls for shots fired in 2017, Simon says the city can’t handle another year like that.
“We want to knock that down, put people in the right places,” Simon said.
While the 2017 numbers may seem alarming, 2018 will be Simon’s first full year as police chief — former chief Michael Hubbard retired in September — and he wants to make it count. He hopes to hire more officers to close the gap on the city’s officer shortage, update technology in squad cars and build trust with the community.
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Building trust won’t be an easy task, Simon said. The chief said it’s challenging to persuade people to cooperate when they fear repercussions from neighboring gangs and refuse to speak with officers.
“Without them letting us know what’s going on in their neighborhood ... we don’t know who’s causing issues,” he said. “But people seem to be scared to come forward and say ‘This is who is doing all the crime in this neighborhood.’”
Without them letting us know what’s going on in their neighborhood ... we don’t know who’s causing issues. But people seem to be scared to come forward and say ‘This is who is doing all the crime in this neighborhood.’”
East St. Louis Police Chief Jerry Simon
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly and Illinois State Police asked the public for information on the many unsolved 2017 homicides at a news conference in December. Kelly said witness testimonies are crucial, and that cases are rarely built solely on surveillance footage and forensic evidence.
Since 2010, only 28 percent of the 206 homicide cases in East St. Louis and surrounding areas have been solved, authorities said at the December news conference.
Even with state police partnering with East St. Louis officers on every death investigation, the number of homicide cases is on the rise. In 2015 the city investigated 19 homicides, compared to 27 in 2016 and 35 in 2017.
In 2015 the city investigated 19 homicides, compared to 27 in 2016 and 35 in 2017.
In an attempt to increase the number of cases solved, Simon plans to install around 25 cameras throughout the city. Since the department is understaffed, he hopes the cameras will function as eyes for some of the city’s violent hotspots.
Some of the cameras will be stationary, Simon said, and others will move as the various hotspots do.
The addition of the cameras will also help with the department’s technology problem, Simon said. Squad cars aren’t equipped with laptops, so each time an officer needs to file a report, they have to return to the station to use one of the three computers there.
“That means they’re taking the time to drive back and forth, and that’s taking officers off the street,” Simon said. “If they can sit in a hot spot and be seen, it makes a difference.”
Although the department doesn’t have money in the budget for laptops, Simon said he was waiting to hear back on a few grants the agency has applied for. He also hopes to get money to employ a few social workers to cut down on the number of day-to-day calls in which repeat-offenders with mental illnesses may be causing trouble.
“There’s quite a few — and they take a lot of time — every day,” Simon said. “If we can get them some help, that’s one thing we’re trying to accomplish.”
And while the amount of crime in the city is disproportionally high for its population of 27,000 — Simon doesn’t deny it — he says it’s possible to change that, and to make the metro-east city a safer place.
About the chief:
Chief Jerry Simon has worked with East St. Louis Police Department for 24 years, and worked for two and a half years in Washington Park prior to that.
He worked undercover with the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois (MEGSI) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force, worked on a U.S. marshals’ fugitive task force and with a drug and gun unit in East St. Louis.