The local U.S. Attorney’s office analyzed the amount of crime in East St. Louis and came away with this conclusion: You’d need 173 police officers to effectively secure the city.
They only have 36 available for duty, with another seven injured.
The report presented to the Metro East Police District Commission looks at crime levels and staffing levels in comparable cities to arrive at the manpower estimate that is so far from the impoverished city’s reach that it would be laughable were it not so wrenching. You can totally believe 173 cops would be needed to tame the Wild West in the city’s housing projects and depressed neighborhoods.
The commission was supposed to be part of the solution, merging support functions such as administration, training and evidence storage. It was eventually to house East St. Louis, Washington Park, Alorton and Brooklyn police in the same headquarters, but no one from Springfield is coming around with a big bag of money to pay for it.
The commission helped with training and recruiting for a time, but that has all but halted as the four departments lost officers and were forced to cut budgets. The federal prosecutor’s study describes the vicious cycle of high crime and few officers leading to a reduction in proactive policing leading to high crime.
Translation: If you never see a cop, you’re more likely to do bad. If you see a cop, even one waving as you drive by, you’re more likely to be good — maybe even deciding not to shoot your rival drug dealer.
And the cities have next to no money because there is little tax base. There’s another vicious cycle: No public safety, no investment, no business, no jobs, no taxes, no public safety.
So how do you break these cycles and break through?
We’ve all decided health care is a basic right. Why not public safety?
All the little units of government mean ineffective taxation and widely varying levels of policing. Dupo Police may have the advantage of knowing everyone in town, but do they have the funding to effectively attract and train officers? Belleville Police have a professional force with a solid reputation, but should city taxpayers’ resources be used to patrol East St. Louis?
And we’re all aware of the needs in the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, which needed a penny tax after county leaders chose to fly MidAmerica and to let a ghost patrol run cross-county from call to call.
Erase the lines. Make policing and public safety a regional effort.
Just like we can consolidate schools by leaving the pension, bond and other legacy costs with the taxpayers who took them on, we can split taxation for a regional force just as we tax across regions for flood control or community colleges.
Why give up patrol officers in Belleville to safeguard East St. Louis? Because cops now are less mobile than the criminals. Crime follows opportunity regardless of whether you are shopping or on public transit or in a housing project. Criminals are not checking city boundary maps before they decide to carjack someone.
Centralizing hiring, administration, training, dispatching and other support services is the favored formula for fixing the four impoverished communities. Maybe it should be the formula for a wider region, with the efficiencies of centralization increasing officer numbers and making everyone safer.
Sounds simple enough, but no politicians gain from that scenario. Democrats relying on that bloc of voters have little incentive to improve the economic servitude gripping the East St. Louis region. Politicians in cities and villages would fight giving up control of jobs, letting go of taxes or trusting a new group to keep their communities safe.
But things could be better. And in the flash of a moment they could be a whole lot worse if the decay on the riverfront comes splashing across your doorstep.