(KTVI) - Missouri lawmakers could be considering a new approach to violent youthful criminals next January. That's one proposal that has come from this week's Urban Crime Summit sponsored by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.
The four day conference split between Kansas City and St. Louis is bringing together regional and national law enforcement experts along with officials in corrections and health services. The St. Louis portion of the summit opened today in a courtroom on the top floor of the new St. Louis University Law School in downtown.
"You've got to punish gang activity; you've got to punish armed offenders earlier in the process," said Koster. Currently, punishment intensifies as the offender commits additional crimes. But Koster said he does not think that makes sense particularly with gang connected crime. "These are difficult decisions but it's evidence we want to show policy makers for a new set of legislation in January," he explained.
St. Louis police detective Jerod Breit who works on gang issues said the department tries to target gang leaders most likely to commit violent crimes with guns. They also follow public social media to track potential disrupting activities.
Better Family Life, a community outreach organization, favors more door to door contact with families in high crime neighborhoods. "These are resource deserts," said James Clark, vice president of Better Family Life.
Clark says organizations like the Boy Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Job Corps need to be involved in these neighborhoods to help redirect young people.
" We've got to have neighborhoods that produce better people. Right now, many of our neighborhoods are incubators for criminal activity," Clark said. He pointed to the challenge single mothers face in raising young boys. "There's a very strong call from the streets that's enticing our young boys at a very, very young age. So we advocate for door to door resource delivery in our high crime neighborhoods."
St. Louis City Health Department Director Pam Walker told regional leaders they need to fully support resources for substance abuse intervention and re-entry as well as law enforcement and incarceration.
"It costs three times as much to lock up a drug user than to treat them," she said.
She also called on Missouri to expand its Medicaid services under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) so more mentally ill residents would be eligible for treatment. "It can take six months of inpatient treatment to stabilize a patient with schizophrenia," Walker said.
The summit continues Thursday at the SLU Law School at 100 N. Tucker Blvd. For more information go to http://ago.mo.gov/UrbanCrimeSummit/UrbanCrimeSummit-AgendaSTL.htm