Police chief, council: Cape Girardeau faces growing gun violence

Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Wes Blair

Cape Girardeau has experienced a dramatic increase in homicides in the past six years, most of it tied to illegal drugs, police chief Wes Blair said Monday.

From 2012 through 2016, the community experienced 19 homicides, which include murder and manslaughter, according to crime statistics presented to the City Council. For the previous five years ending in 2011, the city recorded seven homicides, records show.

On a night when the council accepted a federal grant to help fund purchase of a body-camera system for the police department, crime statistics took center stage.

Through Sept. 30 of this year, the city has seen five homicides, compared to six homicides for the same period in 2016, Blair said.

Comparing Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2016, to the same nine-month period this year, crimes of arson have increased 83 percent; rapes/sex offenses, 60 percent; vehicle thefts, 23 percent; aggravated assaults, 9 percent; and burglaries, 3.5 percent, Blair said.

Drug-possession cases have climbed nearly 42 percent, and drug-sales cases have jumped more than 56 percent, according to the report reviewed at the study session before the regular meeting.

Overall crime was down slightly in 2016 compared to the previous year, the chief said.

Blair and council members said the city has experienced growing gun violence.

"We get shots-fired calls almost every day," Blair told the council.

Ward 4 Councilman Robbie Guard asked what the city can do to take illegal guns off the streets. Blair replied, "It really comes down to prosecution."

Federal prosecutors recently have put a renewed emphasis on prosecuting gun crimes, which should help address the problem, the chief said.

Council members said they would like to see greater use of the street crimes task force, which consists of officers from the Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, Poplar Bluff and Charleston police departments and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Blair said various departments have scaled back task-force operations for budget reasons. Officers receive overtime pay for working on the task force, he said.

The Cape Girardeau Police Department is short-handed too, the chief told the council.

The department is budgeted for 80 police officers, but one position has not been filled, and six officers are deployed overseas in the National Guard, Blair said.

In addition, one of Cape Girardeau's nuisance abatement officers is deployed overseas in the Guard, he said.

Blair said his department has experienced fewer applicants for police-officer positions, reflecting a national trend.

Veteran officers in Cape Girardeau and other departments are retiring, he told the council.

The average tenure of a Cape Girardeau city officer is about five years, the chief said.

"We do have quite a few with less than two years experience," he added.

The less-experienced officers are the ones on the streets that have the most interaction with the public, Blair said.

Developer Scott Rhodes spoke up at the study session, suggesting the city needs to have a plan for tackling the crime problem.

"Murders are on the rise. What are we doing about it?" he asked the council.

Rhodes said city officials need to look at providing more funding for the police department rather than focusing on a tax to fund parks.

"What is more important, the safety of the community or great parks?" he asked.

But Mayor Harry Rediger said parks are important to community betterment along with a quality police force.


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