St. Louis Police battling hurdles to shooting investigations

East St. Louis wants to fight the stigma of gun violence that has plagued the area but officers may be too outnumbered.

By Dane McGuire

ST. LOUIS—Former East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Hubbard said police are in a race to keep up with the homicide rate due to a lack of manpower and resources.

East St. Louis is supposed to have a minimum of 62 sworn officers, according to the Bellville News-Democrat by way of the U.S. Department of Justice. The department currently has 44 after probationary patrolman Jason Boyd was sworn in on April 10, 2018. Boyd was the first new officer in five years.

For example, the St. Louis Metro Police Department (SLMPD) has its own crime lab divided into nine areas of focus compared to a partnership between East St. Louis and the Illinois State Police crime lab in Belleville, Ill.

Of the 339 homicides which occurred last year in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, which includes St. Louis City and County,  284 were shootings according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch Data Reporter Janelle O’Dea.

2018 has yet to be different with 69 shooting homicides in the St. Louis area through April 22 according to an article by O’ Dea. An April 23, 2018 report from the SLMPD notes there have been 46 homicides this year so far with 43 involving a firearm inside city limits.

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“A bigger department has pretty much a unit that specifically deals with homicide,” Hubbard said. “In East St. Louis, you have six detectives that deal with homicides, domestic battery, burglaries … You have less detectives doing more work.”

Once a shooting occurs, Hubbard said a patrol officer will send out a call of “shots fired, man down” and the scene is immediately secured by police. A supervisory officer such as a patrol sergeant, lieutenant or captain then assesses the scene.

State police handle evidence collection while on-call detectives follow through the identification of the victim, witnesses and interviews. The initial patrol officer will also brief the necessary parties such as the coroner on the victim’s injuries, where the victim’s body was found and other findings related to the incident according to Hicks and Hubbard.

From that point on, the investigation turns back to day-to-day evidence gathering and questioning.

Once all necessary parties have been contacted and are on task, the hunt for nearby suspects is on. Police then look to their communities to come forward, a part of the process that is likely to slow or stop the investigation due to fear of retribution, Hubbard said.

“[Informants] are one of the major things that we have that allows us to close cases,”  If you’re not on-scene and there’s no video, the scene and the informants or the neighborhood are the voice for that victim,” East St. Louis detective Jason Hicks said.

Another problem, other than the length of time an investigation takes, is that St. Louis is battling against the ease of access to firearms.

The SLMPD seized 8,424 firearms between January 1, 2010 and June 17, 2015 and has finished or “cleared” 13 general homicide cases for the year as of April 23, 2018. 33 cases remain open. 128 more cases were left open to end last year.

“There are a lot of people that have friends that haven’t gotten in trouble and first thing they’ll do is purchase the weapon, will report the weapon stolen but they gave it to their friend and then [a shooting] is off of them because they reported it stolen,” Hicks said.

Hubbard and Hicks said the drop wasn’t due to gun violence per se but rather because of the lack of infrastructure and development. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2017 that nearly 30 major corporate headquarters left the St. Louis metropolitan area over a five year period.

 “At one point if you couldn’t get a job in [East] St. Louis you couldn’t get a job anywhere,” Hubbard said. “If your citizens feel safe in your community then they’ll remain there. More people will be apt to move there. You’ll have industry and then your city begins to grow.”

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