East St. Louis Police Chief Jerry Simon possesses what our former commander-in-chief would call the audacity of hope, especially when your chances of becoming a crime victim somewhere along or not far from Barack Obama Avenue are pretty darned good.
Last year saw a peak number of homicides in the city at 35, which is especially disturbing when you look at the number from a decade earlier — 16 homicides. On a per capita basis, East St. Louis makes Chicago and its 650 homicides last year look like Mayberry. Last year you were five times more likely to be killed in East St. Louis than Chicago.
So the city’s new police chief has every reason to be discouraged. He says he’s not. He has a plan.
Get more cops on the street. Get grants to get them surveillance cameras and laptop computers in their cars. Get the community to trust the police.
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Any one of those three is a tall order with the city in financial tatters, grant dollars drying up and a community with every reason not to trust police. Reasons not to trust include the gangsters with long memories who cultivate a culture where children are taught not to snitch, plus untrustworthy police, including three chiefs convicted of corruption.
But Simon spent 24 years in the ranks, worked undercover drugs for the state and feds and chased fugitives. He’s apparently got buddies at the state and federal level, plus got the county prosecutor to come out and plead with the community for cooperation after only 28 percent of the area’s 206 homicides since 2010 were solved.
“Without them letting us know what’s going on in their neighborhood ... we don’t know who’s causing issues,” Simon said. “But people seem to be scared to come forward and say, ‘This is who is doing all the crime in this neighborhood.’”
You have to pull for this underdog. He’ll have every reason to fail, but if that audacity is paired with tenacity — and some more cops on the street — there could be a miracle on Barack Obama Avenue.