- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) - An effort to target crime and improve life in 15 St. Louis neighborhoods is off to a slow start.

In December 2015, Mayor Francis Slay released a two-year plan to target 12 north St. Louis and three south side neighborhoods. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/2i92adT ) reports that halfway through, some aldermen are concerned about what they see as only limited progress.

Alderwoman Cara Spencer said the crime plan “hasn’t materialized into anything meaningful at all” in her ward.

Carl Filler, director of strategic policy initiatives in the mayor’s office, said progress is being made, though at a gradual pace.

“We’d hoped it was going to move faster, Filler said, “but I think we should have known that like everything in government, it just moves a little slow.”

Still, Filler says several initiatives are underway, including more re-entry coordinators in city jails, more youth programs at community centers, police officers making home visits to at-risk youth, and more homicide officers assigned to troubled areas.

Homicides in 15 “focus neighborhoods” dropped in 2016, though they’ve largely been offset by killings elsewhere. Violent crime was up by 4 percent, both in the focus neighborhoods and elsewhere in St. Louis.

Gravois Park, one of the focus neighborhoods in Spencer’s ward, saw a 48 percent spike in violent crime in 2016. The liaison officer role only seemed to exist on paper, she said. And she called a component of the plan to add security cameras a “bureaucratic nightmare.”

Police Chief Sam Dotson said police regularly have special crime units working in Gravois Park. Filler insisted cameras were going to be installed.

A key component of the plan asked the Board of Aldermen to pass bills to pay for more police officers. Dotson said that didn’t happen. The authorized force is around 1,300, but because of low starting pay and the challenge of finding qualified applicants, Dotson’s department is down 115 officers.

Pulling more officers to particular neighborhoods on a longer-term basis means diverting them from elsewhere, Dotson said.

“The aldermen don’t seem to understand this because they have this me, me, me mentality and they all want more,” the chief said.

The plan called for targeted economic development initiatives in the 15 neighborhoods. Little tangible progress has been made.

“We don’t have the specific pieces,” said St. Louis Development Corporation director Otis Williams, “because some of this is about trying to garner resources.”

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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