Two days after city judges rejected a proposal to create a special gun court in St. Louis, Missouri’s attorney general and the city’s police chief reiterated their support for the new approach at an urban crime summit that began in Kansas City and moved to St. Louis on Wednesday.
A formal discussion of the proposed “armed offender docket” isn’t scheduled until today, but the impact of Monday’s decision was apparent, from Attorney General Chris Koster’s introductory remarks to more blunt criticism by St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson.
Judicial systems are belatedly realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, Koster said, and they have responded with specialized courts for the homeless, military veterans, defendants with mental health problems and those struggling with substance abuse.
A similar effort focusing on weapons is needed, Koster said, but will require a new way of thinking that emphasizes strict punishment early on rather than giving offenders second and third chances.
“Our natural instinct in law enforcement is to increase punishment as the numbers of criminal convictions occur in a defendant’s life. So the older you get, and the more crimes you commit, the longer your punishment,” he said.
“But when it comes to guns, and gangs, that whole model may need to be readjusted, if not turned on its head. The problem exists in a narrow segment of the population — largely males between the ages of 17 and 28 — and not males between the ages of 40 and 50.”
Dotson dressed down the St. Louis judges for rejecting the gun court.
“We have a proliferation of illegal guns in the city of St. Louis,” Dotson said in an Associated Press interview. “Over 3,000 crimes year to date that have been committed with guns in the city. The judiciary did a disservice to the people … by not taking on this challenge.”
The gun court docket would have been overseen by two judges who would rely on speedier trials and higher cash-only bonds in cases of armed robbery and unlawful use of weapons. Gun-related homicides and assaults would remain on the broader docket.
“Swift and expedient judgments along with high bonds could have an impact,” Dotson said. “ (Criminals) are not fearful of a trial that could happen two or three years later.”
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says he plans to ask state lawmakers to require the specialized court when they convene next year.
A special gun court also would benefit Kansas City, Koster said.