This past Tuesday night, I went to the Candlelight Vigil for Aniya Cook, the young lady gunned down on Highland near Kingshighway. She, like Megan Boken, was a beautiful young woman who was taken from their families and the community way too soon. These incidents have focused community attention, anger and frustration on violent crime, especially gun crimes. But, it is not a new issue. As we all know, violence is far worse in some of our neighborhoods across the city. Young African American men, especially, are at risk. But, it's not just them either. I have gone to far too many wakes, vigils and memorials for crime victims. I have had to give our City's prayers and condolences to far too many devastated mothers and family members.
I have been and will continue to focus on crime because of the harm it does to innocent victims and to our neighborhoods. It is a shame that any senior citizen has to live with bars on their windows. It is a shame that some of our parents cannot allow their children to play outside after dinner. It is wrong that the sound of gunshots has become a regular occurrence in some of our neighborhoods.
Chief Isom recently announced an anti-violence initiative to put his officers in high crime neighborhoods during the hours when most crime occurs. Eight of the 12 neighborhoods that are going to be the focus on his attention are in North St. Louis, two central and two south. We are also putting in place a new hot spot policing initiative, where we will saturate small areas that are havens for drugs, gangs and violence. It is the job of our police to go after bad guys. It is our duty to support our police. If you see criminal behavior or know something that will help the police, please tell them.
To make sure we are being smarter than the criminals and expanding anti-crime programs that work, I have created the Public Safety Partnership with the police, prosecutor, Board of Probation and Parole and the University of Missouri/St. Louis. A criminologist is embedded in our Public Safety Department to help us fight crime and measure our results to make sure what we are doing is working.
We are also focused on crime prevention. I created a Youth Violence Prevention Task Force to bring together educators, foundations, community leaders, and non profit agencies to address teen violence. Out of the task force's work has come a summer jobs program for youth, and a major expansion in after school programs to give kids something to do between 3 and 6 p.m., which is the most dangerous time for them.
We have reduced lead paint poisoning, which is associated with violent behavior later in life. We have increased job training, started innovative charter schools for our kids, built two new recreation centers, are helping more young people go to and graduate from college, created one of the most successful prisoner re-entry programs in the state, and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our neighborhoods plagued with poverty.
Our courts have a job to do as well. Our City is awash in guns. We need to send a message that if you use a gun, you will pay a price. To do that, our judges need to consistently give higher bonds for gun crimes and higher sentences for gun crime convictions.
As 19th Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis so forcefully stated at the Candlelight Vigil, Chief Isom and I cannot do this alone. The police and prosecutors cannot do this alone. It will take the entire community to reduce crime. Parents have to teach their children values, and hold them accountable for their actions. Our schools have to do a better of providing our children with the skills they need to compete for jobs in a knowledge economy. Our churches and other places of worship can provide teenagers -- particularly young men who don't have fathers -- with role models so they know how a man is supposed to act.
I am determined to make your neighborhood safe. But, I need your ideas, your passion and your help to get it done. I am convinced that if we work together, we will take back all of our neighborhoods. You have my commitment.
Mayor Francis G. Slay
City of St. Louis
Office of the Mayor