St. Louis May Get to Keep Millions to Help First Responders — If These Two Can Get Along

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The city could receive $5.5 million for public safety, but Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Mayor Tishaura Jones are currently negotiating how it will be spent. - COURTESY MAYOR TISHAURA JONES / ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy Mayor Tishaura Jones / Attorney General's Office
  • The city could receive $5.5 million for public safety, but Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Mayor Tishaura Jones are currently negotiating how it will be spent.

St. Louis city has a chance to receive $5.5 million dedicated to public safety, but Mayor Tishaura Jones and Attorney General Eric Schmitt have to agree on how it will be spent.

In 2018, the city of St. Louis reached a settlement agreement with George Allen, a Black man who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in the 1980s. St. Louis was due to pay the state back for that settlement on September 1, but Jones says Schmitt told the mayor’s administration in September they could keep the funds if they used them on police personnel.



“I assumed it was a political stunt, like most things coming out of the attorney general’s office these days,” Jones said in a press conference on Monday morning. “The attorney general has spent his time chasing clout and a Senate seat, but my administration is always willing to work with anyone to help improve the lives of residents in our city.”

Reached by the RFT by email, Schmitt's spokesperson Chris Nuelle says "it's sad the mayor has made this a political issue." He says that based on a Supreme Court ruling this summer, the city owes millions of dollars for past legal work.



"Out of respect for the men and women of law enforcement and our deep commitment to the City of St. Louis," Nuelle writes, "we graciously offered to put this money towards hiring more officers on the ground to patrol the city and fight violent crime. It’s sad that the mayor has made this a political issue and that hiring more police officers doesn’t fit the agenda of the mayor of the murder capital of the United States. We're going to keep fighting for the safety of all six million Missourians.”

Jones says in order to keep St. Louis safer, a “more holistic, broader” approach is necessary. She says that last week, the city counselor’s office responded to the attorney general with a three-pronged approach that falls under the parameters given.

In the press conference, Jones detailed where the money would be spent. First, a portion of the funds will be used to create hiring incentives for 911 dispatchers. Jones said she was “struck by how empty the 911 dispatch center was” when she toured it in August, and called the understaffing a “real crisis.” The mayor said the city is still down dozens of dispatchers as they work to consolidate 911 dispatch centers, and a hiring bonus — like the one offered for the Refuse division — would help attract employees.

The city will also use the funds to improve mental health resources for officers. The mayor claimed our officers are exhausted and need help, and she’s always one to say “everybody needs some couch time” to talk through trauma.

“I cannot imagine the trauma they experience,” Jones said about police officers. “Day in, day out, responding to homicides, responding to assaults, that can take a toll on someone’s mental health. We want to offer them the tools they need to be whole so they can continue to show up to the responsibilities they have on a daily basis.”

Another portion of the funds will be used to boost the city’s COVID-19 vaccine incentive program for first responders. Police and firefighters have the highest rates of unvaccinated individuals in all the city's departments, Jones said, and raising the current $100 incentive in place may help improve those rates.

The offer also asked Schmitt to allow the funds to be spent over multiple years, rather than just the remaining seven months in the budget year. Jones said she was unaware of any suggestions made by Schmitt or his office on how to use the money.

“I appreciate the Attorney General’s office for offering St. Louis the opportunity to retain these funds, which we can use to protect residents from COVID-19, staff up our 911 center, and support our first responders’ health care needs,” Jones said. “I’m ready to work with anyone — across party lines — to get the resources we need to improve services and make our city safer for everyone.”

Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at jenna@riverfronttimes.com
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