Authorities say a multijurisdictional effort has resulted in a decline of 42 percent in the murder rate in the city of East St. Louis.
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the local implementation of Project Safe Neighborhoods in the city.
The centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime strategy, Project Safe is a nationwide initiative that brings together federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, along with community leaders, to identify the most pressing violent crime problems and to develop comprehensive solutions to address them.
A press conference was attended Tuesday by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Steven D. Weinhoeft, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz, East St. Louis Police Chief Jerry Simon, and United States Marshal Brad Maxwell, along with representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“One year ago, the city of East St. Louis experienced the highest per capita murder rate in America, for the third straight year,” Weinhoeft (shown) said. “Today, on the one-year anniversary of the local implementation of the Project Safe Neighborhoods strategy, I’m happy to report that the homicide rate has been cut by 42 percent. There is still much to do. But, today, we can be very proud of the progress that has been made.”
Weinhoeft said Project Safe is built on three foundational principles. First, it is community based. The initiative recognizes that different communities have different dynamics. As such, each U.S. attorney is tasked with tailoring a strategy that makes sense for that particular district. Second, is a targeted program that uses law enforcement and community resources to identify the most violent offenders for criminal enforcement. This second principle recognizes that the majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by a small number of persistent violent offenders. Third, the program is comprehensive. It seeks to sustain relationships between local, state, and federal law enforcement, together with community groups, and with a focus on prevention and reentry strategies to disrupt the cycle of violence.
The U.S. attorney’s primary local strategy has focused on leading bi-weekly case reviews at the East St. Louis police department with the law enforcement personnel who directly investigate violent crime cases. At those meetings, state, local, and federal law enforcement officials review every shooting incident and prioritize resources to focus on cases against the most persistent, repeat violent offenders. State and federal prosecutors participate in the case reviews to help guide the investigations.
The Illinois State Police has supported law enforcement efforts for decades in the East St. Louis and Metro East areas. Over the past year, however, they have significantly increased their commitment by supporting the PSN initiative. The Illinois State Police has committed additional manpower to conduct proactive patrols, and they send crime scene investigators to process any scene involving a gun crime, whether or not the crime results in a fatality. This is a significant commitment considering East St. Louis receives roughly 1,300 calls each year for shots fired, the U.S. attorney said.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Kelly said, the effort must be sustained over the long term.
"Law enforcement helps set the table for economic development by other parts of the community,” Kelley said.
East St. Louis Police Chief Jerry Simon said he appreciates the support of each agency.
"This work is directly responsible for the decrease in the overall crime rate and for the significant reduction in the homicide rate. I look forward to continuing these relationships in the future,” he said.