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St. Louis Mayor On Crime And Policing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It was a violent Fourth of July weekend in Chicago. More than a hundred people were shot in a surge of gun violence. Over the past few years, Chicago has struggled to put an end to the gun violence there that has captured the nation's attention.

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UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #1: Gang violence showing no signs of slowing down in Chicago.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #2: Shootings and violent crime have skyrocketed in Chicago.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thousands of shootings. And I'm saying, where is this? Is this a war-torn country? What are we doing?

MARTIN: Chicago, though, is not the only city in the U.S. with a serious crime problem. Neighboring St. Louis, Mo., has the highest rate of violent crime in the country. That's based on FBI numbers from 2015. Lyda Krewson is the mayor of St. Louis. She points out that focusing on the crime rate rather than the number of crimes can impact the perception of what's happening in her town.

LYDA KREWSON: Last year, we had 188 murders. There are certainly many cities who've had a lot more murders than that. But there are a number of factors, as you know, that play into this - entrenched poverty. We have - almost 30 percent of our population in the city of St. Louis is living in poverty. And that, combined with lax gun laws in the state of Missouri, are, of course, some of the contributing factors to a high homicide rate.

MARTIN: Let me ask you about what you think the federal government's role should be, if there is a role for the federal government. President Trump has tweeted about what he calls the epidemic proportions of crime in Chicago. To combat that, he has sent 20 federal agents to join a new strike force there. Is that something you would like the administration to do in St. Louis?

KREWSON: We would always welcome additional help, both in terms of manpower and in terms of funding because funding is a major impediment.

MARTIN: Why do you have a funding problem?

KREWSON: Well, it's exacerbated in recent years because surrounding communities pay their police officers - the difference is as much as $10,000. So if you're a young person wanting to become a police officer, where would you apply to?

MARTIN: The most famous police officer from the St. Louis area is Darren Wilson, who was the officer accused of shooting and killing Michael Brown. Does that play into your recruiting efforts? Does that make it harder to recruit people to come work on your police force?

KREWSON: You know, I don't know the answer to that. I don't think it does in a direct way, but I certainly think the tension that exists between police officers and communities in this country, as well as in St. Louis, does probably have an impact on the number of young people who decide that they want to become police officers.

MARTIN: And has your city been able to successfully implement what's called community policing, this movement in the wake of these shootings of African-American men in this country that's about getting into communities, embedding in them and getting to know people to build up that trust?

KREWSON: You know, we're - we work on that literally every single day, our police officers do. They currently have a program where every officer is supposed to be out of the car for at least 20 minutes during his or her shift. But certainly, as the police chief has said, they know who the folks are that are up to no good. What they sometimes don't know are the good folks that are in the community, which we really do need in order to help solve these crimes.

But I also think we also have to look on the prevention side of things. And that's the money for recreation, the money for after school and summer jobs, the money for mental health workers and social workers. So we have to take a holistic approach to this. This is not just about law enforcement. It's about an entire approach to how we're going to serve the people of our city, of our state and of our country better.

MARTIN: Lyda Krewson is the mayor of St. Louis. Thanks so much for your time.

KREWSON: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.