ORR – More than 100 residents from all over the Cook/Orr area turned out to form the Northern St. Louis County Crime Watch at a meeting in the community center here on Oct. 30. The meeting was an …
ORR – More than 100 residents from all over the Cook/Orr area turned out to form the Northern St. Louis County Crime Watch at a meeting in the community center here on Oct. 30. The meeting was an opportunity for community members to voice questions, concerns, and ideas regarding a rash of crimes in the area and to pull together to fight back against the perpetrators.
In the past month alone, there have been roughly 20-25 burglaries, and those are only the ones that have been reported. Residents mentioned crimes that Mayor Joel Astleford said he was hearing about for the first time. Vandalism, possible arson, and wide-ranging thefts were among the crimes that people discussed.
St. Louis County Sheriff’s Lt. Jason Akerson and Deputy John Barrett, from the St. Louis County Sheriif’s office, mentioned that an uptick in crime is not unusual during this time of the year, although they acknowledged that what they’ve seen in the Orr area is above and beyond the norm. Given the state of things, it’s no surprise that residents are concerned not only about their property, but also their personal safety.
One resident asked about the possibility of getting more law enforcement in the area. As of 2012, there are four full-time officers based out of Cook who provide 24/7 coverage to a huge expanse of northwestern St. Louis County, but only one officer works at a time. When asked about their ability to cover the area, Lt. Jason Akerson said he believes they do well with what they have, but that it would “of course” be nice to have more deputies. He also mentioned that an increase in coverage would likely mean an increase in taxes.
Although additional deputies might not be in the immediate future, Deputy Barrett said citizens can still do a lot to help deputies do their jobs. He talked about how residents sometimes hesitate to call 911 because they’re concerned they might be disturbing the deputies or that they might be too far away.
“It’s a partnership,” said Barrett. “That’s why we rely on eyes in the community. We want you to call us.”
He mentioned that the deputies work 12-hour shifts, so they don’t mind going wherever they’re needed. Barrett also talked about other ways residents could help, such as documenting serial numbers on guns and taking pictures of items they’re concerned may be stolen. He said it was important for those who have been robbed to visit local pawn shops and go on Craigslist to see if they recognize any of the items being stolen as their own, since this could lead to either more information or a possible arrest.
Not everyone was pleased with having to wait until something happens before being able to do something. One resident asked, “What happens when they’re on my property and I beat the hell out of them?”
“We certainly don’t want to advocate people taking the law into their own hands,” Akerson responded. “If you see something, please call right away.”
This prompted at least one community member to speak up. She stated that she had called on at least two different occasions, including regarding the fire at Wally’s Auto. She said she had told the deputy who answered the call that she had important information, but no one ever came to talk to her. Another time she said she called, and was put on hold even though she had told the dispatcher that she was calling about a threatened homicide.
“I just kind of feel like, in Orr, they just kind of shove us to the side sometimes because we’re not as big as other towns,” she said.
Akerson and Barrett expressed concern over this incident and told residents that the best thing to do in situations of this type would be to call back after some time and mention this is a second call. If nothing seems to be happening, ask to speak with a supervisor.
Another resident asked about getting a more direct line to the deputies, saying that not every call was necessarily an emergency. Barrett, however, made it clear that the best way to get in touch with a deputy was to call 911. He also encouraged community members to write down license plate numbers of vehicles that seem suspicious or questionable and to turn the information over to the sheriff’s department.
Regarding the current crime spree, the sheriff’s office has a pretty good idea of who is behind it all. Now, it’s just a matter of catching them. This is where the Northern St. Louis County Crime Watch could come in handy. It is currently unclear where funding for the program will come from, but Commissioner Paul McDonald said he would look into who funded similar programs in other communities that were having this problem about fifteen years ago. He lauded the energy in the room, as well, saying that this was how things get done.
Forming a functional crime watch committee will take time, but Astleford said the city will figure out what they can do and let everyone who signed up at the meeting know within the next week what the next steps will be. In the meantime, residents are encouraged to call 911 if they see anything suspicious.