Despite increase in some crimes, criminal cases down in St. Louis courtrooms

St. Louis News

ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – In spite of rising crime rates in the St. Louis area, court records show steep declines in the number of criminal cases being filed. A circuit judge tells FOX 2 the number of criminal cases being filed is down in courthouses across Missouri.

FOX 2 examined court filings for the past five years. Records show the number of new criminal cases down 46% in St. Louis County Court so far in 2021 compared to 2017; down 61% in the City of St. Louis during the same period; and down 8% in St. Charles County.

Christopher Hertel was charged Monday with ramming a stolen St. Louis City dump truck into a police car. It was assigned criminal case number 1000 in city court.

Cecil Coats was charged Monday with shooting someone in the face in Florissant. It was assigned case number 2559 in St. Louis County Court.

Case numbers start at “1” with the new year. It’s not always 1-for-1 sequencing, year to year. Numbers do get skipped. Still, at this point in 2017, criminal filings had reached case number 2584 in the City of St. Louis compared to 1,000 now. They’d reached case number 4,7444 in 2017 compared to 2,559 now in St. Louis County.

“For us, it’s about quality over quantity,” said St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell.

Violent crime filings had actually increased in 2021, he said. Close to 1,000 low-level drug possession cases over two years sent to a diversion program with no charges filed, Bell said, a factor in the overall lower number of cases.

“This is exactly where we’ve been trending, what I campaigned on, what I want to do in this office,” Bell said. “With the violent crime, the cases we’ve issued are up. Domestic violence – we’ve issued 41% more cases between 2018 and 2020. We’ve issued 58% more homicide cases in that same time. We’ve issued 90% more assault cases.”

The city’s top prosecutor pointed to the pandemic, as well.

“We have a COVID-19 pandemic which is forcing prosecutors for public health reasons to really identify cases they have to proceed on because number one, we wanted to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

She also pointed to police bringing fewer cases during pandemic quarantines, plus a growing lack of trust in police and prosecutors stemming from deadly police shootings. State lawmakers also played a role, tying prosecutors’ hands by weakening gun restrictions, she said.

“The open-carry, permit-less, ‘stand your ground’ (laws) took effect when I took office in 2017. We’re seeing the effect of having severe, lax gun laws in our state,” she said. “So, I think there’s not one single thing determining case numbers. This is a unique period of time: 2020-2021, we’ve never had; like no other.”

A spokeswoman for police officers associations in the city and county said prosecutors were too often refusing charges on strong cases from police as we face a precipitous increase in crime in the St. Louis area.

The spokeswoman called for prosecutors to release detailed records on diversion programs and cases for which prosecutors had refused to file charges.

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