ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis crime summit is set for Wednesday after another weekend of street fights, gunfire, and reckless driving downtown.
Several issues seem to be making St. Louis a magnet for mayhem. A week ago, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department announced an unmistakable show of force to bring downtown under control. Then, over the past few days, the same issues erupted in almost the same place as they have for nearly a year, near 9th and Locust.
Rampant gunfire, reckless driving, and fighting happened on that street on New Year’s Eve. There were similar issues in the same spot the past two weekends.
“We’ve had the same thing time and time again,” said St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer, whose 8th Ward includes part of downtown. “We’ve got some problematic landlords. We’ve got some ‘Airbnb’ property owners that have got to be reigned in.”
Authorities said people book short-term rentals of downtown loft apartments to host overnight parties and sell drinks laced with alcohol and/or drugs to minors. Police are then repeatedly called for fights and shootings, with no way to investigate which loft is hosting the party or contact the owner of the building hosting the parties.
In this case, it’s the former St. Louis Public Schools headquarters, now known as the OPOP Lofts. Records showed the owner, Strategic STL Lofts, LLC, is actually located in Lakewood, New Jersey.
FOX 2 contacted and emailed the owner, but did not get a response Monday.
“The property owner is impossible to find a lot of times,” Spencer said.
FOX 2 has also learned that the City Planning Commission is recommending new regulations to the Board of Aldermen requiring that building owners have business licenses, permits, and provide contact information for all short-term rentals, with penalties for repeated issues like those at 9th and Locust.
A spokesperson for the St. Louis Mayor’s Office issued the following statement:
“St. Louis is one of the few municipalities without short-term rental regulations, and Mayor Jones supports this effort to protect housing and hold property owners accountable. We envision a system where licenses for short-term rentals uphold specific standards. If they do not and cause problems for their neighbors, they will be removed from the list of approved units and unable to rent their property. We will also have them removed from rental platforms that wish to operate in the City of St. Louis.”
Another issue is state lawmakers’ failure to ban youth or anyone else from openly carrying guns, including assault-style rifles with extended magazines.
“This is clearly a major issue to have people walking around with semiautomatic weapons brazenly in downtown St. Louis, and our state legislature thinks it’s just fine,” Spencer said.
The downtown residents group, Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis, is calling for “saturated” traffic law enforcement downtown along with action on short-term rentals.
A group of mayors in St. Louis County and surrounding county executives continue to push a six-point regional crime plan that would:
- Combine the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office and the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office into one unit.
- Mandatory life sentences without parole for illegally selling fentanyl that result in death
- Increase penalties for possession of firearms and illegal controlled substances
- Implement mandatory cash bond in cases involving repeat offenders
- Enhance car theft penalty to a Class C felony
- Require officials to assess points based on crimes allegedly committed by juveniles.
“Crime is rampant. It is a regional issue. It needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed now,” said Wildwood Mayor Jim Bowlin. “Government’s first role is to protect its citizens, and we’re not being protected. We’re being failed. We need to do something about it. We need to do something about it now. It is not just a single issue. It’s not just Kim Gardner’s office. It’s not just homicides.”