14 min read
Posted on 04.28.06
  • 14 min read
  • Posted on 04.28.06
  • Filed under
  • State of the City

Good morning.

It has become my custom to use this State of the City address to report to you on progress we've made together in the past legislative year, and to consult with you formally on our City's agenda.

Aldermen, you have every reason to regard the State of the City as good and getting better.

There is new development in every ward. Across the City, there are new homes of all types and lofts; more affordable housing; exciting stores; better parks; safer streets and bridges; more paved alleys; and more responsive municipal services.

Property values, building permits, third grade reading scores, connecting airline flights, and the City's population are all up. Exciting new projects - like Pinnacle and the Grove - are on the horizon. Our children live better and healthier lives. Excitement about City living is up.

We have the best urban park in America, the best zoo in America, and the best baseball player in America. For the first time in five years, City revenues are growing again.

And people - and not just people from the St. Louis region - have noticed the changes. There remains plenty of work to be done. But, we've done a lot together.

In the past, we have worked together to improve the delivery of City services, to keep and attract businesses, to celebrate our diversity, to encourage investment in north St. Louis, to create more things to do Downtown, and to take better advantage of our strengths.

Last year, I talked about helping children; strengthening our economy, and capitalizing on the new enthusiasm in the region for City living. We have made progress in all three areas. All three remain high priorities.

But, I am going to focus this speech on two issues: crime and poverty.

Let's begin with the facts. St. Louis is a significantly safer place today than it was five years ago. The vast majority of our City neighborhoods are safe places to live, work, and raise a family.

Some, though, are not. Our job is not done until families with kids are eager to come back to all neighborhoods or until all children in all parts of the City feel safe walking to school.

We cannot rely only on the police to make that happen. It will take all of us.

I am going to send you a package of proposals as the starting point for a partnership to reduce crime in all of our neighborhoods.

It will be a partnership involving you, me, the police department, our residents, neighborhood leaders, the faith community, the state, the federal government, and many others.

If we work together, we can make our City safer-sooner.

Lowering crime is complex. Part of the solution is economic. Part is social. Part involves law enforcement. Part involves parents. We must address all of them.

The plan I am putting forward this morning was developed by a valuable partnership involving my office, the police department, the U.S. Attorney, the Circuit Attorney, and the State Division of Probation and Parole.

It is both comprehensive and well coordinated.

First, we will need to manage our public safety resources more effectively.

Under Chief Joe Mokwa, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has made great strides in integrating technology and in understanding trends in criminal behavior. That's important because strategic planning and good communications represent some of the strongest advantages the good guys have over the bad guys.

To do that even more effectively, I will ask you to appropriate money to fund three new positions in the police department's crime analysis unit.

One thing we already know is that a relatively small number of criminals are responsible for a relatively large number of crimes in this City. I will ask you to help protect our neighborhoods from these career criminals, and to help break the cycle that creates career criminals.

At the heart of this proposal is a coordinated plan of attack involving local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

I propose beefing up the already successful "Most Violent Offenders" program with the addition of 20 police officers.

To deal with the new arrests that these officers will make, the Circuit Attorney's Office will create a "Career Criminal Unit" to prosecute repeat and violent offenders.

The U.S. Attorney's Office will expand its efforts to prosecute career criminals and will use federal resources to target high crime areas for priority federal prosecutions.

And the State Division of Probation and Parole will work closely with St. Louis Police to identify repeat offenders who pose risks to our neighborhoods.

This represents an incredible amount of cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement authorities. In particular, I want to thank Chief Mokwa, US Attorney Catherine Hannaway, and Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

But, catching the bad guys and getting them to the courthouse is not the end of the story.

As I have said many times, the State justice system in St. Louis has become a revolving door for repeat offenders. Chief Mokwa has quite diligently sent me example after example: reports of 20-year-old criminals with dozens of prior arrests and convictions; more seasoned criminals arrested for serious crimes while on probation for similar crimes; and officers who already know the first names of people they arrest during their patrols because they arrest the same people again and again.

That has got to stop. In too many cases, convicts already on probation commit more crimes, and are put on probation again. In the cause of justice for victims and for neighborhoods, judges must give prison time to repeat offenders who hurt people or disrupt neighborhoods.

Most convicts who do prison time will eventually get out. Unfortunately, when they do, too many bring with them a drug or alcohol problem, no skills to get a meaningful job, and no ability to cope. So, they commit more crimes. And, justice's revolving door keeps on turning.

We must try to stop that.

The City's Department of Human Services is developing a comprehensive prisoner re-entry program to provide neighborhood and faith based drug and alcohol treatment, access to job training and jobs, housing and social services.

The goal is to help prisoners get on the road to living productive lives so they don't hurt anyone again.

To fund that program, I am asking the Missouri General Assembly for one million dollars to test the effectiveness of this approach. If the program works, we'll do more.

I am asking you to appropriate additional funding to expand our very successful Drug Court. Drug Court has turned around the lives of first-time offenders. It is the kind of progressive law enforcement that reduces crime.

As you know, I appointed a task force of advocates to determine how the City could better help women who are victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault. I want to thank them for their hard work and dedication. I am also asking you to fund and carry out their recommendations.

I propose we add three investigators to the Sex Crimes Unit so that all sex crimes are channeled to the unit. The Police Department will add an additional advocate for victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse. And, they will add a criminologist to the lab so rape kits can be processed faster.

Not every crime is a violent one. And violence is rare in most City neighborhoods. While we focus on violent and repeat offenders, we also must pay close attention to some of the other things that tear at the fabric of neighborhoods. I am going to seek your support to add 24 officers to neighborhood patrols. These officers will be assigned to District operations to give Districts the flexibility to more aggressively target nuisance crimes, drug use, and other disruptive behavior.

I also propose that you fund an expansion of the Problem Properties and Nuisance Crimes Task Force to more effectively prosecute these new cases and fight problem properties.

Another nuisance is the theft of license plate tabs. My office is working with the Missouri Department of Revenue on a pilot project to make it much harder to steal the tags. As we implement this program, we will also seek stronger penalties for license tab theft.

But, smart law enforcement, tough prison sentences, and a crackdown on nuisance crimes are not enough. A high school diploma is a better crime deterrent than a police car.

The second element of our agenda is to improve the lives of many of our City's children.

Some of us have disagreed - at times very loudly - about the direction of the St. Louis Public Schools. But, that's over now. It is my hope that with the recent School Board election behind us, we can find a new common cause.

Most teenagers are great kids with bright futures. But, too many young people in our City schools - or kids who would be in school if they ever went to school - have no respect for themselves, their elders, their neighbors, their teachers, police officers or - even - for life itself.

They don't believe they have a future and, too often act like it.

Too many kids imagine their lives to be computer games or music videos.

If we don't do something, their real-life trajectory is predictable: boredom, unemployment, drugs, car clouting, carjacking, high-speed chases, shoot-outs, and, if they survive, prison.

We must come together as a City regardless of whether we have children ourselves to help children become responsible citizens. That will involve getting tough - both with young people and with their parents.

If we want to make all of our neighborhoods places that more families choose -including those neighborhoods where shootings are now a fact of life - then we have to face hard facts - and we have to work together.

Here is one hard fact. Nationally, 72 percent of African American men in their 20s who do not graduate from high school do not have jobs. Many of them will end up in prison.

For the good of young men and for the good of our neighborhoods, that has got to change.

So, I am going to ask George Cotton, a well known community activist who organized the Vashon Men's Initiative a year ago, to work with my Neighborhood Executive, Charles Bryson, to develop a plan to use every resource of our community to keep kids in school and off the streets.

The plan will certainly involve parents, clergy, and police. Aldermen, your help will be needed too. But, it will probably end up involving everyone else as well. The heart of the plan will be zero tolerance to loitering, curfew violations, and truancy.

We have a City full of great kids. Like adult offenders, a relatively small number of young men commit a relatively high number of crimes.

So, I am also proposing we expand the successful Night Watch program. Police officers will check juvenile offenders who are under court supervision to make sure they are home at night as they should be.

We also know the warning signs. When juveniles miss a lot of school, there is a very good chance that they will turn to criminal behavior when they get older. So, I am seeking state legislation that will require the Department of Family Services to intervene when a student misses more than 30 days of school in any semester. Somebody-- parent or caregiver-- is going to have to explain - and be responsible for - where that child has been.

But, chasing kids who do bad things isn't enough. We have to give all our kids something to do - particularly after school. Children need constructive and meaningful activities to keep themselves out of trouble.

That's why I have set a goal that by 2010, every child in the City of St. Louis -regardless of income - will have access to an after-school program. A strategic plan for a coordinated system of after-school programs will be completed this summer. I have asked ARCHS and St. Louis for Kids to take the lead to implement the plan.

To give kids and adults more things to do, I am also proposing that we work together on a funding package to submit to voters this November to build two new recreation centers - one in North St. Louis and one in South St. Louis.

The final bill for these first two elements will depend on the package that you pass. But, I am seeking authority from the Missouri General Assembly to submit a sales tax increase to voters this November to do more crime fighting.

If the state legislature grants us the authority, I will ask you to exercise it. And if we go to the voters with our request, I will ask all of you to speak up for it. When we've gone to the voters with a single voice before, we have been successful. If there ever were a cause and a moment that needed all of us to stand together, it is "this cause" and "right now."

The third element of our agenda involves the direction of our economic development.

There is more to fighting crime than locking up criminals and keeping kids in school. We also have to give people who are able, trained, and willing to work access to jobs. We must reward hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

More than 20 percent of our families live in poverty. Far too many low-income families rely on under-employed adults. That's why I support an increase in the state or federal minimum wage and increased federal subsidies for child care. But, many other families rely on un-employed adults.

And we have no chance at making any real gains against crime as long adults and those who depend on them do not get legal pay checks.

There have been gains in St. Louis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the size of our workforce is growing - as is the size of our employed population.

According to the BLS, we had nearly 2,000 more people in our City workforce at the end of 2005 than we had at end of 2004. And we had roughly 3,300 more employed people than we had in 2004.

That's good news. The bad news is that too many people are jobless and too many have little hope of getting a good job soon.

We now have one of the best school superintendents in the country. We're lucky to have him. And we ought to try to keep him.

Dr. Creg Williams gets it: many more St. Louis public school students should go to college, but every graduate of the St. Louis public schools should be able to get a job.

I am going to work with Dr. Williams and the School Board to create new career academies and schools focused on life sciences, information technologies, health care, and other New Century disciplines that will lead to great jobs.

The City will also step up its work with city schools to emphasize workforce preparedness and to overlay public education curricula with the intangibles of work ethic, punctuality, literacy, vocabulary development, customer relations, and other skills needed to get and hold good jobs.

With all of the business expansions in the City, I spend a fair amount of time on shop floors, in factory offices, and in warehouses. Employers all over St. Louis tell me they will hire workers. Then, they tell me that they can't find enough of them.

That's where the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment comes in. SLATE has improved dramatically under Tom Jones' leadership.

I propose that we add additional staff to SLATE and set a goal of doubling the number of City residents who get placed in jobs.

I also spend a lot of time on construction sites. More than 7,000 residential construction permits were issued in 2005. The new ballpark opened. The first Lowes in the City is under construction at I-55 and Loughborough. A new gaming complex is coming out of the ground (and the water) on the riverfront.

More than 40 new retail stores have been built out downtown. There are a dozen major residential condominium buildings being completed or being built in the City. In the last year, we have built or repaired $28 million worth of roads and bridges - and we will do more this year.

Some of the projects, like the new ballpark, have been exemplary in including City residents and disadvantaged businesses in their construction. And more than 25 percent of the road and bridge construction and repair work went to minority and disadvantaged businesses

But we can and must do much more to ensure that everyone can participate in the building boom going on in our City.

The Bottle District, the Union Pacific redevelopment, Ballpark Village, continued development of the SLU/Midtown area, Cortex, I-64, the Mississippi River Bridge, the continuing conversion of old commercial buildings into loft developments, and a boom in the construction of single family homes, particularly on the north side lie ahead. Most of them will include public money. Some of them will include a great deal of public money. This is what they call "an opportunity." We should take it.

It is already happening on some projects. The lead contractor on the Lowe's Store project has set a goal that 27 percent of its workforce will be minority and seven percent women.

We need to find ways to do more of that. To succeed, we need buy-in from unions and contractors.

So, we will begin to partner with the ACCESS Collaborative, an association of contractors, unions, and advocates for minority workers that was created to increase opportunities for minority and women workers, as well as minority and women-owned contractors.

We will work with them to establish, monitor and evaluate construction training programs, to improve the recruitment and retention of minorities in the construction industry and to assist us in gaining entry into private sector construction opportunities.

What I am proposing are fair opportunities for more City residents to build their own city.

And construction is not the only opportunity for workers.

So, I am going to create a special task force to focus on workforce development in demand-driven fields like health care and information technology.

Jack Thomas and SLDC director Rodney Crim already do great jobs. But I will be asking both of them to do even more to increase opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses, and to make sure those businesses grow and prosper. There are many success stories - like Fuse Advertising, ABNA Engineering, the Roberts Brothers, and the Construction Career Center Charter High School - but we need many, many more.

In order to make this happen, I will need your help. I will ask that you pass legislation this year to allow Project Labor Agreements; to increase the number of minority and women apprentices; and to give preference to City businesses in City government contracting.

Aldermen, I know that the proposals I have made this morning require some difficult choices. I certainly you will have your own ideas. I welcome them.

But, this is a very interesting political moment. This is a watershed. During my tenure, St. Louis has seen growth, prosperity, and a dramatically improved status in our region and in our country. Our constituents believe our City is headed in the right direction. There is more confidence in our ability to get things done and do them right. There are no divisive issues, or people, that should keep us from our agenda for fighting crime and poverty. We all want the same things: safer, stronger neighborhoods and children with unlimited futures.

This agenda is a perfect opportunity for us to work together.

Aldermen, I know you are as optimistic about the future as I am. We have come a long way in the last five years. And we can do something unprecedented together this year-but, only if we do it together.

I very much look forward to working with you.

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the City of St. Louis.