ST. LOUIS – A growing concern statewide about crime going unpunished in the City of St. Louis has a bipartisan group of lawmakers calling for the Missouri governor to appoint a special prosecutor for St. Louis.
According to a report from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the suspects in 4,280 misdemeanor and felony cases dating back to 2020 have gone free and are awaiting a decision from the Circuit Attorney on whether to file criminal charges.
The Circuit Attorney’s Office disputes the number, but initially did not provide a specific figure. Staff provided an update later Wednesday night, saying that the number of cases was no more than 3,800 and included cases where the alleged offenders were not considered violent or dangerous, the arresting police officer no longer worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and cases lacking evidence (such cases result in charges less than 20% of the time).
However, Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature now consider a lack of criminal prosecutions a public health concern in St. Louis. Under House Bill 301, which was sponsored by Republican State Rep. Lane Roberts, the former Joplin Police Chief and Missouri Director of Public Safety, the governor could decide that the backlog of criminal cases was “a threat to public safety and health” and “appoint a special prosecutor who shall serve for a period of five years” to prosecute murders (first and second degree), assaults (first and second degree), and robberies (first and second degree).
“The City (of St. Louis) is at a tipping point,” said Democrat State Rep. Donna Baringer of St. Louis. “Usually, 80% of your crime is done by 5% of the population. In the City of St. Louis, we’re not putting that 5% behind bars. So, they’re getting right back out and able to commit more crimes.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers met with St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner via conference call.
“One of the big things the St. Louis prosecutor mentioned is that she needed help,” said Republican State Rep. Ron Copeland of Salem, Missouri. “That’s one of the things the bill is trying to provide is help, if she needs help.”
“People are dying,” Roberts said.
He pointed out that the City of St. Louis has had more than 1,000 homicide cases over the past five years with too few prosecutions.
The new St. Louis Police Chief, Robert Tracy was at the Capitol on Wednesday. He did not give an opinion on the bill, telling lawmakers he’d yet to meet with Gardner but would be sitting down with her soon.
“I think it’s only fair that I sit down with her to at least have a conversation before commenting about what’s happening,” Tracy said. “What she wants to do or not do.”
Gardner did not respond to FOX 2 interview request. The cases awaiting action do not include violent crimes, according to staff.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department disputes that.
The House Crime and Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing on HB 301 on Thursday morning. It currently mentions only the City of St. Louis but is expected to be amended to include any county struggling with a backlog of criminal cases.