It was standing room only at Wednesday night's public forum sponsored by the Neighborhood Security Initiative at the Schlafly Library. Even Alderman Lyda Krewson and CWEA President Doug Teasdale were among those required to stand in the hall because the room was filled to capacity. Someone joked that most meetings of the NSI draw four people, but this one, having to do with recent events in the neighborhood, drew lots of interest. The speakers, SLMPD Chief Dan Isom, Director of Public Safety Eddie Roth, 9th District Captain Jim Moran, and NSI Executive Director Jim Whyte explained what is being done to ensure the safety of residents in the CWE and neighborhoods throughout the City of St. Louis, where assault crimes are at an all-time high.
There was also a brief explanation of what the Neighborhood Security Initiative is about, but in case you missed the meeting, I wanted to share a conversation I had recently with Jim Whyte, above, the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Security Initiative.
Jim has been in executive director's position for eight months, and despite the recent tragedy, thinks his job "is the best job in the world." Jim and his wife Lori, a pediatric nurse, have 3 sons ages 17, 15, and 12. He is a Marine Corps veteran and retired as a lieutenant from the St. Louis Police Department after 20 years of service. In his final assignment he was based in the 7th District where he worked in homicide, on the Swat Team, and the Mobile Reserve Unit. As Executive Director of the CWE NSI Jim manages security patrols in five areas: the CWE North (Lindell to the south side of Washington/Olive, Kingshighway to Taylor), CWE South (Lindell to Forest Park Blvd., Kingshighway to Taylor), Southeast (almost to SLU Campus), Westminster/Lake, and Washington Place (see map below).
As Jim explained it: The St. Louis Police Department is obligated to provide coverage for the citizens of the city of St. Louis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition to the services the police department provides, there are separate security patrols, overseen by the Neighborhood Security Initiative, that some of the immediate neighborhoods elect to pay for through a special tax on real estate.
In areas where voters have elected to create a Special Business District (SBD), a portion of taxes collected by the city is returned to each SBD to fund local intiatives. Each of the 5 participating Special Business Districts in the CWE contributes to the NSI according to a formula based on revenues. CWE North contributes $58,000 yearly. In addition to the SBD's, the Washington University Medical Center (WUMC) contributes $100,000 a year to underwrite patrols in nearby neighborhoods and has committed to increasing that amount to $200,000 next year. Jim Whyte remarked last week and repeated Wednesday evening that "the money that is put into the NSI is a testament to the fact that people of the CWE value the amenities of urban life."
Decisions about how to allocate patrol funds are determined by the commissioners of each Special Business District (SBD). The patrols are administered by the Neighborhood Security Initiative and funded by each of the 5 participating SBDs. The CWE North was the first neighborhood to form a SBD in the city of St. Louis, nearly twenty years ago. Several years ago the CWE North SBD Commission, made up of local residents and business owners who are appointed by the mayor and serve without compensation, contracted with The City's Finest as the primary supplemental security patrol provider. TCF is staffed by off-duty bike-mounted St. Louis police officers who have the same authority as when they are working their regular jobs, with the added benefit of radio communication through the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Most importantly they have the power of arrest, unlike ordinary security firms. TCF officers, managed by St. Louis police officers Charles Betts and Paul Henkhaus, are well-equipped to handle policing in urban areas.
Additionally, the Deputy Director of the CWE Neighborhood Security Initiative, Sarah Wickenhauser, is a certified crime analyst who has been with the organization for 1 1/2 years. Sarah reviews crime data received from the police department each morning, and assists in scheduling TCF officers accordingly. There are usually 8 to 10 TCF officers on bikes working throughout the participating districts in staggered shifts.
Wednesday evening and during our earlier conversation Jim stressed the importance of community involvement to help police prevent and solve crimes. One way to get involved is to sign up with the NSI to attend court bond and sentencing hearings when there are crimes committed in the neighborhood. Jim has organized a Court Watch group of concerned citizens who attend hearings to demonstrate to the court that we care how these cases are handled. Jennifer Joyce, Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis, confirmed in one of her recent press conferences that citizen involvement makes a huge difference in the court system. If you'd like to sign up to join the Court Watch group and learn more about the criminal justice system in St. Louis, contact Sarah Wickenhauser (firstname.lastname@example.org). Sarah will also add you to the email list to receive crime updates, notices of meetings, and safety tips, etc.
Finally, the NSI and CWE North have researched, priced and will implement a $108,000 camera project in CWE North this Fall. Jim Whyte said strategically-placed surveillance cameras have been very successful in other cities. Other SBD's have earmarked funds for cameras, waiting to see how this is implemented in the CWE North. The NSI is looking for ways to expand the reach of the security camera systems. Businesses and buildings that have exterior cameras may want to share a video link with the NSI. This way a business doesn't have to monitor its own cameras and the data can be used more effectively by police. Under this approach, the NSI office would serve as a clearinghouse for all the security camera systems in the CWE. The NSI will take responsibility and provide upgrades as needed.
Jim loves the neighborhood for its "amazing diversity" and open-mindedness. He said he gets upset when the media bashes the neighborhood, and if the news is sensational, it gets even more coverage. He also said during our conversation and again Wednesday night, "What would it say about a neighborhood if it wasn't upset about crime?" Residents do want to get involved to preserve what we love about the CWE.
I know this is an overly long post with perhaps too much information, but I hope it helps clarify these important matters.
The next CWE NSI public forum will be on September 26 at 5:45 at the Schlafly Library. The meeting will feature the Honorable Stephen Ohmer, Presiding Judge of the 22nd Circuit Court. If interest in the NSI meetings continues as it was Wednesday evening, the NSI will find a larger meeting space for the future.