With the St. Louis homicide rate on target to reach its highest level in 20 years, the police department is coming under increasing pressure. So is Mayor Francis Slay, the man who two years ago won control of the department to hold it more accountable, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I wouldn't want to be in Mayor Slay's shoes,” said Todd Swanstrom, a professor who specializes in urban politics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Slay wrested oversight of city police from the state in 2013 for the first time since the Civil War. With the change has come more power over police strategy, but also more political responsibility for it.
Previously, the department was overseen by a five-member board: the mayor and four board members appointed by the governor. “It's not an easy task,” Swanstrom said. “A lot of it is managing perceptions. The headlines are very damaging to the city — and frightening.” After a violent weekend last week, the number of murders soared above 100 already this year. That's 60 percent higher than the number of homicides at the same time last year, which itself had seen a 30 percent increase from the prior year. The situation has put Slay in unfamiliar territory. The city's longest-serving mayor, Slay saw a sharp decrease in homicides after he first took office in 2001. By 2003, under former Chief Joe Mokwa, the annual number of murders dropped to 74, the lowest in generations. Slay told the Post-Dispatch, “We've got a handle on it.” He added, “We are going to get results. We are absolutely committed to that. We don't give up.”