ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The St. Louis County Council approved a bill this week that would allocate $700,000 to Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell’s office.
“We are one of the most understaffed offices in the country, actually,” Bell said. “We’ve seen over the last 20 to 30 years crime rates go up, but the budgets have not gone up significantly at all.”
Bell said the additional funding has been in the works since he took office. The funding will add 12 additional prosecutors and seven legal assistants, expanding its violent offender’s task force and satellite offices.
Bell said during Tuesday’s County Council meeting that his office is nearly full-staffed, and they don’t have a problem filling positions, but said they just need more people. He said they have 65 attorneys with 125 staff in total.
“We get about 10,000 to 12,000 referrals from law enforcement,” Bell said. “We have about 55 police departments in St. Louis County. We prosecute anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 cases a year. We have 65 attorneys. Do the math. Prosecutors have upwards of 250 or more cases for a single attorney, and that’s just too many.”
Bell said this approval will bring down the backlog of cases that were caused by COVID when the courts were closed. The funding will also go toward expanding its task forces that focus on specific crimes and opening satellite offices in the county.
“Law enforcement has to do their job and keep us safe, get an arrest,” Bell said. “Well, that’s only half of it. Because at that point, we have to take it, and we have to bring it home, bring convictions,” Bell said. “So we need the staff to be able to do that.”
Bell said his office has prosecuted 48% more domestic violence cases, 45% more homicide cases, and 90% more assault cases.
“This office has been doing a great job,” Bell said. “But at the same time, we have to get those caseloads at a manageable rate so we can give even more time to each case and more time to each victim.”
The county council approved the bill 5 to 1 Tuesday with $700,000 of funding that will carry Bell’s office through the end of this year. The council can reapprove the funding for next year using money from the American Rescue Plan Act, but the total will be closer to $1.4 million. After next year, there is no guarantee Bell’s office will be able to get the funding again.
“Mr. Bell is aware, and he’s made it very clear that anyone hired as a result of these ARPA funds will be told it’s possible it won’t be continued after these ARPA funds expired,” said Tim Fitch, 3rd District councilman for St. Louis County, during Tuesday’s meeting.
Bell said this will be a similar protocol they follow when the office and HR department hire someone based on a grant the office received.