April 20, 2023
Daniel P. Mehan
President and CEO, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Senior Vice President, State and Local Policy
While crime increases across the nation, many communities are feeling helpless and pushed beyond their limits. In the state of Missouri, local businesses have called for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry to intercede on the matter amid rising crime rates.
Tom Wickam, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of State and Local Policy, spoke with Daniel P. Mehan of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry about the current state of crime in Missouri during the Chamber’s America’s Crime Wave event, as well as how the local chamber and the broader business community are coming together to challenge rising crime in the state.
Amid Rising Crime Rates Nationwide, Missouri Is Seeing an Even Larger Impact
According to Mehan, the state of Missouri ranks ninth in property crime, sixth in violent crime, and fourth in firearm mortality nationwide. Additionally, while violent crime is increasing across the nation at a rate of 4.6%, the rate is even higher in Missouri at 8.6%.
Beyond the crime rate itself, Wickham identified the role of prosecutors as a point of concern.
“The U.S. Chamber has seen a rising issue of ….failed prosecutors, inactive prosecutors, rogue prosecutors … prosecutors who will not prosecute,” Wickham explained. “And that has been affecting many of our major cities.”
The combination of rising crime rates and lack of prosecution can lead to massive backlogs of unsolved or unprocessed cases.
“[A St. Louis district attorney representative] came up with the number of 3,500 [cases] on backlog. Think about the number of crimes that represent and the number of criminals that haven’t been dealt with,” Mehan emphasized. “St. Louis, like other cities around the country, has a reputation for [releasing] people that have conducted violent crime.”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce Is Working to Address Missouri Public Safety
Although the Chamber of Commerce typically sticks to areas of business and economy, Mehan explained that many businesses requested the Chamber’s involvement in solving the rising crime issue.
“We surveyed our CEOs, and 71% of them said [the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry] should be involved in this,” said Mehan. “And in places like St. Louis, unfortunately, it goes up to 87%.”
The numbers themselves also speak to the need for some change in the approach to rising crime.
“Over a year ago in the legislative session, there were 30 public safety bills or crime bills filed, [but] only two minor ones passed,” said Mehan.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce Is Taking Action to Address Rising Crime Statewide
As a preliminary step to its full involvement, the Missouri Chamber researched and released a detailed report on crime called “Safer Missouri, Stronger Missouri.” The statistics outlined in the report not only justify the Chamber’s stepping into the public safety arena but also serve as a foundation for its public safety bill.
Informed by everything leaders learned in the “Safer Missouri, Stronger Missouri” crime report, the Missouri Chamber has prepared a public safety bill currently up for consideration in the Missouri Senate. According to Mehan, the Chamber has seven more weeks to secure approval in the state Senate, and he is confident they can achieve that goal.
“[The bill] establishes the ability for the governor to send in prosecutors who will prosecute those [backlog or extra cases],” with additional prosecutors being utilized based on population and violent crime thresholds.
According to Mehan, the core of the bill addresses “prosecutorial transparency and accountability” in order to cut down on backlog and address an overwhelming number of new cases.
“Will one piece of legislation fix the problem? No, it’s going to be a long-term campaign,” he emphasized. “We recognize that. Hopefully, we can take a step in the right direction.”