Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation
St. Louis, Missouri
Target Area: Wellston Neighborhood - Population 1,775
BCJI Awardee: Beyond Housing
Research Partner: Dr. Lee Slocum, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Focus Area: Personal and Property Crimes
BCJI Funding Year: FY2020
Wellston, Missouri, is a Qualified Opportunity Zone and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhood in St. Louis County, covering almost one square mile. Wellston residents have less income, wealth, and education compared to both St. Louis County and the entire state of Missouri. Almost half of the Wellston residents live in public housing, and 68 percent of households are headed by an unmarried female. Wellston ranks last in the Wealth Index Rating for the entire state of Missouri and experiences higher rates of personal and property crimes than the rest of St. Louis County.
Following the 1950s, the racial makeup of the population changed after the largest employers left the area. Increasing unemployment rates, crime, and building degradation accentuate a story of neighborhood disinvestment. The community harbors valuable assets, including a workforce training center and public transportation access points, though the region continues to experience challenges. In 2012, the public school district of Wellston lost accreditation. The district regained provisional accreditation in 2017, but students still test below-average on assessments and the graduation rate is 10 points below the state average.
In 2015, Wellston disbanded its small police department due to financial hardship and mismanagement. More than a dozen murders went unsolved in the months leading up to the dissolution. Policing is now provided through a contract with the North County Police Cooperative (NCPC). In order to facilitate transparency and trust between the community and police, the NCPC has dedicated a full-time community engagement officer who supports neighborhood watch groups, the Citizen Police Academy, and school-based programming.
NCPC identified two primary drivers of local violent crime to be explored further during the Planning Phase of the project. Firstly, many perpetrators do not reside in Wellston, but rather migrate in and out of the target area, committing crimes involving drugs and gun violence. Secondly, incidents of assaults involving a weapon, often resulting from an altercation between individuals who are acquainted, involve both residents and non-residents.
NCPC’s budget is based on property and sales taxes for the area served. The median property value of owner-occupied units is one-third the value of the rest of the county; therefore, property tax revenue is much lower than the surrounding community. Wellston has reported declining property tax revenue for decades. Sales tax revenue is also limited by the area’s inability to attract business due to negative perceptions of safety. Without tax revenue, the police department’s budget is insufficient and unable to fund innovation. Beyond Housing (BH), NCPC, and the community have designed Wellston Forward to reduce crime, improve the perception of Wellston, and create a sustainably safe place for business to return to the region.
The vision of Wellston Forward is a safe neighborhood where all residents thrive by focusing on three overarching goals:
- Increase communication and trust between law enforcement and residents;
- Implement hot spot crime prevention efforts by identifying drivers of local crime and violence, coordinating local resources, and providing the police technical data and analytical support to increase capacity to address crime and reduce violence; and
- Increase the capacity of residents and resident-led groups to engage in crime reduction activities, including those often excluded, such as youth, renters, business owners, and families of young children in community problem-solving efforts.
The Planning Phase process will bring together BH, NCPC, the University of Missouri-St. Louis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and several resident-led community groups.
- Over the first 12 months of the grant, each organization will designate a representative to serve on the oversight committee. They will meet at least two times per month to discuss data collection strategies, synthesize findings from analyses examining the nature and patterns of crime and crime drivers, develop the planning strategy, coordinate community engagement activities, identify additional partners, and develop an Action Plan.
- Community meetings will be held at least six times during the Planning Phase and will share crime data and analyses, solicit community ideas to address crime, provide preliminary information on proposed evidence-based strategies, solicit community feedback on proposed strategies, and collaboratively identify ways for community members to participate in implementation. Community meetings will be a chance for residents to share their experiences and ideas and deepen their relationship with the oversight committee.
Other Key Partners
Beyond Housing, University of Missouri - St. Louis, Wellston Community Coalition, Missouri Department of Conservation, North County Police Cooperative, Young Voices with Action, Wellston Tenant Association, Easton Development Corporation
This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. 2018-BJ-BX-K035 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion of the issues.