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From downtown shootings to children caught in the crossfire of gun violence, the City of St. Louis is focusing new efforts to tackle crime before it begins.
“I think this is an exciting opportunity, I’m excited to be able to do this,” said Wilford Pinkney. “Looking at non-law enforcement alternatives to approaches to public safety.”
Pinkney is the director of the city’s new Office of Violence Prevention. The division was established last week with the signing of Alderman Board Bill 65.
News 4 spoke one-on-one with Pinkney about what the role will entail and how he hopes it will impact public safety in the city.
“It is about coordination. So, an Office of Violence Prevention allows for a central place where these efforts that already are taking place and community organizations who are already engaged in trying to address reducing violence, can come together and be organized to do it in a better and more effective way,” said Pinkney.
The Office of Violence Prevention will utilize nearly $13.6 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) money to establish grants for local organizations to use in the efforts to combat violence and establish future youth programs.
“What it’ll look like through the office is a typical community process where we put out RFPs, request for proposals, for people to submit ideas, initiatives and programs that they would like to either implement or they are already implementing that they feel can help address violence in the community,” said Pinkney.
Pinkney says his new office, which will eventually be staffed by at least five other people, will serve as a centralized hub where groups that are already doing the work to improve public safety can coordinate their efforts.
“Such as Cure Violence, such as our crisis management system, such as re-entry services, to make that we’re working together not only within government but within the community and with the community to address the root causes of violence,” said Pinkney.
He says other communities across the country have started similar offices of violence prevention.
However, right now, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is short 102 officers. News 4 asked, why not use ARPA funds to enhance existing efforts, such as policing, instead.
“Because there’s no one thing that solves the crime problem in any city,” said Pinkney. “And the important thing in this city is to make sure we’re looking at public safety holistically, and these organizations that are doing this work that can help prevent the police from having to respond to crime, is what’s really important as well. It’s not an either or. Both of these things need to be true.”
It is a unique position, but Pinkney says he is more than qualified to take it on.
“One of the things is I’m a former police officer, and in my time working in policing, these types of things weren’t available to me as a tool,” said Pinkney. “This is now my opportunity to help provide a tool to communities but also to law enforcement to take some of the work off their shoulders that they’re not necessarily equipped to do, and to help them focus more on violence.”
Some of the other areas in which the Office of Violence Prevention will be working to fund is organizations or resources that help get residents employment, access to mental health services, and create summer activities and safe spaces that keep children away from violence.
“Those are really important areas to address in terms of the root causes of why people engage in violent behavior,” said Pinkney.
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