On July 10, nine-year-old Tyrese Short was shot in the head and killed while riding in a car with his father in north St. Louis. On July 17, Mario Shackelford, 29, was fatally shot in Kiener Plaza during a fight allegedly over spilled beer. On Sunday, John Paulsen, a Kansas native and hotel director, was shot and killed in south St. Louis, reportedly for no other reason than being in the "wrong place, wrong time."
And this week, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is seeking input on what he is describing as an unprecedented and "extraordinary opportunity to reduce gun violence in this city." It's a court system reform effort that he has been pushing for some time now -- and one that he and his staff hope will come together this fall.
"[W]e need to work together, and we need to get started right away," Slay writes in a recent Facebook post that he's labeled a "long read."
The goal? An armed offender docket.
See also: - Gun Docket: Can the Courts Do a Better Job of Prosecuting Weapons Offenses? - 6-Year-Old Boy Accidentally Shoots Leonard Smith, 11, in Belleville - Feds Target Metro St. Louis: 267 Firearms Seized, 159 Charged
Slay outlines the idea in a lengthy Facebook post this week, in which, in a somewhat unusual way, he calls for reactions, repostings, commentary, shares and more social media engagement on this matter. (The full text of his post is on view below; it's only viewable to the mayor's friends on the site, of which he has nearly 5,000, the Facebook limit).
The idea of the armed offender docket, which he is promoting through this new Facebook campaign, is to create a "a specialized trial division whose purpose would be to deliver a comprehensive and evidence-based judicial response to the chronic and unacceptably high incidence of gun offenses in the city of St. Louis."
This division, within state circuit court in St. Louis, would exclusively handle two classes of gun cases: Unlawful use of a weapon (in which the alleged offender is charged with illegal carrying or firing) and first-degree robbery (in which the alleged offender is charged with using a gun).
"These are the gun crimes that have the most pervasive effect on law abiding citizens' sense of personal and neighborhood security," Slay writes. "These are the gun crimes, in our judgment, where the court could have the most profound impact in preventing future gun violence."
He explains that it would not be a "treatment" court like drug court, but rather a "violence reduction" court in which dedicated judges would have the "full array of tools to do justice and help prevent further violence."
In the same way that Juvenile Court judges offer consistent and expert oversight in a specific area, armed docket judges would handle all matters in these kinds of cases, he notes, "from arraignment, to bail determination, to trial or plea, and sentencing and post-sentencing supervision."
Eddie Roth, Slay's director of operations, tells Daily RFT, "The court can really be the focal point of understanding these gun offenses."
"Nothing is more important to neighborhood stability and the progress of St. Louis," he continues, "than reducing the incidents of gun violence, reducing the amount of guns that are on our streets, taking out of circulation people who have proven they create a risk to the safety of the public."
Roth explains that Slay is hoping to solicit feedback from city residents in the coming weeks in advance of a September 16 meeting of the judicial conference, which includes all the judges of the circuit court.
At this meeting, the mayor says, judges are expected to decide whther to adopt and implement the armed offender docket. Many judges favor the idea, but not all of them, Slay says.
Continue for more of our interview with Eddie Roth and for the full Facebook post from Slay.
Slay, alongside Police Chief Sam Dotson and Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, lobbied for legislation in Jefferson City this past session that would have created a gun docket for St. Louis, and though the bill advanced, it did not pass.
Still, Roth explains, the judicial conference could establish a gun docket through an order or resolution of tis own, which is why the mayor is drumming up support now and asking for comments in advance of the September meeting.
"The mayor is really keen on involving the public in the discussion," Roth says. "It's their city. It's their courts.... Here's a public policy issue of the greatest importance that is in play right now in ways where the public voice can really influence the debate."
Roth emphasizes that while about half a dozen courts have tried versions of a gun docket, the proposal in St. Louis is unprecedented in that it has a built-in evaluation component. This, he says, would allow for the collection of data that would help the city parse out what strategies were making an impact in reducing gun violence.
The mayor says those not on his Facebook page can also share ideas vie e-mail at email@example.com.
Here's the full Facebook post:
This is a long read - and what I want you to do is at the very end of it. We have an extraordinary opportunity to reduce gun violence in this city. But we need to work together, and we need to get started right away.
Back in February, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, Police Chief Sam Dotson, former Chief of Police Dan Isom, and UM-St. Louis Criminologist Rick Rosenfeld issued the following statement: "Our court system must approach all gun cases as though our lives and our city's future depend on it."
Together, we proposed creation of "a specialized trial division whose purpose would be to deliver a comprehensive and evidence-based judicial response to the chronic and unacceptably high incidence of gun offenses in the city of St. Louis" -- an Armed Offender Docket.
This special division of the state circuit court in St. Louis would exclusively handle two classes of gun cases: (1) UUW- Unlawful Use of a Weapon (in which the alleged offender is charged with illegally carrying or firing a gun) and (2) Robbery 1st Degree (in which the alleged offender is charged with using a gun in a robbery).
These are the gun crimes that have the most pervasive effect on law abiding citizens' sense of personal and neighborhood security. These are the gun crimes, in our judgment, where the court could have the most profound impact in preventing future gun violence.
How? With focused, sustained and consistent intervention, and by knowing a lot more about the defendants who appear before the court - so we can better understand who needs to be kept behind bars and who deserves another chance.
The gun docket wouldn't be a "treatment" court like the drug court. It would be a "violence reduction" court in which the judges would have the full array of tools to do justice and help prevent further violence.
This idea is not without precedent. We already dedicate a judge to run a Juvenile Court. We do so to promote consistent and expert juvenile justice.
For the same reasons we propose that dedicated judges be put in charge of the Armed Offender Docket. They would handle all matters in UUW and Robbery 1st cases - from arraignment, to bail determination, to trial or plea, and sentencing and post-sentencing supervision.
The results of the cases would be shared widely with the public so you can see through regularly reported data what is happening with gun cases, and what strategies of punishment or supervision may be making a difference in reducing gun violence.
On September 16, at their monthly meeting, the Judges of St. Louis' Circuit Court are expected to decide whether to adopt and implement the Armed Offender Docket. Not every judge is for the idea, but many are.
I would like the judges' decision to be made taking into account your opinions. I want to help them hear you.
Let's see if Facebook works. YOUR ACTIONS: Post your reactions and thoughts on the idea of an Armed Offender Docket proposal here. Re-post this entry on your own FB page. Pass it along to your friends neighbors. Click LIKE so that more people see the post.
(For people who are not FB friends of mine - and for those not on FB - I have also created an email account to collect everybody's ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you send an email, let me know if I can post it using your name or if you want me to withhold it.)
St. Louis is a city of tremendous imagination and expertise - and great loyalty to neighbors and neighborhoods. Together we are making St. Louis a safe city. We have an extraordinary opportunity to reduce gun violence. But we need to work together, and we need to get started right away.
This is a conversation I mean to take up here frequently.