For Richard Rosenfeld, a Founders professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, it is both “sobering and heartening” to know that his research is helping the Biden Administration craft its evolving policy on reducing violent crime.

“I have shared with the White House previous reports we've done for the Council on Criminal Justice and the most recent report, which looks at crime trends through the end of last year 2021. It was published about a month ago… I'm glad to see the White House is using our work [in a way] that promotes reform to the criminal justice system based on evidence-based policies and practices,” said Rosenfeld in an interview with Spectrum News.

This month, the White House said it was expanding upon the Biden Administration’s federal efforts to reduce violent crime and restrict the flow of illegal guns throughout the U.S. While the announcement was made during a trip to New York City and following the murder of two police officers, Rosenfeld said that it is a fight that St. Louis is familiar with and tried to deal with locally. 

With more than 40 years of experience as a criminologist, Rosenfeld has studied crime trends in St. Louis for many years and in 2020 saw the city’s murder rate hit a 50-year high. The increase that year gave St. Louis the distinction of being America’s most dangerous city. But just as quickly, the number of murders in 2021 dropped significantly.

“Homicides in the city of St. Louis went down 26% from 2020 to 2021. They had risen by 30%, the year before,” Rosenfeld said. “Last year, 2021 homicides continued to go up in other cities that we looked at, but the rate of increase was a bit smaller. So in 2021, we saw a 5% increase in homicides, on average, in about two dozen other cities.”

Researchers, like Rosenfeld, are still researching what caused the decrease in St. Louis homicides. The hope is that their findings might reveal some sort of panacea that could be used to fight crime nationwide. According to Rosenfeld, it is unlikely that any one initiative would help reduce crime in every American city, but said it’s still vital to see what strategies can work.

“I don't think the Biden administration is intending a single federal blueprint for every jurisdiction in the United States. What they are doing is making funding available for programs that, you know, operate at the local level, those programs will differ from place to place. They do put an emphasis on community-based approaches, but they also emphasize upgrading policing where that's needed and I think that's the right approach,” Rosenfeld said.

It will take more time to determine exactly what caused the drop in St. Louis homicides last year, but in the meantime, Rosenfeld has been able to establish one community-led anti-violence program had no impact on the reduction.

“I conducted an evaluation of a Cure Violence program in the city of St. Louis… I was simply interested in knowing whether that program had contributed to some pretty sizable declines in gun violence in the city of St. Louis over the last year and I did not find that the program contributed to declines in violence,” Rosenfeld said. However, according to the AP, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Public Safety Director Dan Isom credited the Cure Violence program with helping curb violent crime by preventing it before it happens. The city reported using $5 million in federal stimulus money to fund the Cure Violence program.

Cure Violence is a program that trains people, who are referred to as violence interrupters, in local communities to look out for possible conflicts and then intervene if they believe those incidents are likely to result in violence. The program is used nationwide and can be found in about 20 cities including Kansas City, Atlanta, and Baltimore.

But Rosenfeld explained that his findings do not indicate whether a program like Cure Violence would work elsewhere. In fact, he said this is one of the areas where the Biden administration’s efforts can really help. He also said he wouldn’t object to Biden creating a position focused solely on combating gun violence, as it has with other top concerns for the administration including the creation of a drug and infrastructure czar.

“The federal government can and should act as a clearinghouse for best practices across the country. It's not always apparent to a local mayor or police department — what might be quite effective in cities that are like their own. The federal government can provide…a kind of rating system for programs, based on the research, showing their effectiveness or lack of effectiveness,” Rosenfeld said.

What can play a role in the effectiveness of any anti-violence initiative, according to Rosenfeld, are the demographics of the community where it’s being implemented.

“The [St. Louis] population is roughly speaking, half Black, half white, a relatively small Asian and Hispanic population. The white population is considerably better off economically than the African American population and the city is characterized by a relatively high degree of racial segregation," explained Rosenfeld.

He also said what will be key for the White House, moving forward, will be to ensure it isn’t distributing “funding scattered about across programs for which there's little evidence of effectiveness”.

In fact, Biden is asking Congress to approve funding in the 2022 fiscal spending package with $200 million would go towards “evidence-based community violence interventions”. The full request is for an additional $500 million with the other $300 million going “to expand accountable community policing through the COPS Hiring Program”.

Spectrum News reached out to Rep. Cori Bush, Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Roy Blunt for comment on whether or not they would support the funding request. Staff for Bush and Hawley said they were unable to provide us with an answer at this time. Sen. Blunt’s office did not return our request for comment.

The Mayor of St. Louis is also now getting more involved in efforts to address gun violence at a national level. Last week, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones announced that she’d be appointed as one of the new co-chairs for the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition.

Jones joined the coalition in 2021 after she was elected, and according to Everytown for Gun Safety, was one of the first mayors in the country to announce she planned to use American Rescue Plan funding to address local gun violence.

“Addressing gun violence and making our neighborhoods safer requires an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Mayor Jones after she announced being appointed a co-chair to Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Jones has received praise for her efforts to combat gun violence in St. Louis from Clarissa Hollander, chapter leader of the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action. “We are thrilled to continue working alongside [Jones] to protect Missourians from gun violence” adding “Our state has some of the weakest gun laws and highest rates of gun violence in the nation. There’s no question that local solutions to gun violence will save lives.”

Membership in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition includes mayors from across the country who are “committed to implementing and advocating for innovative solutions to help protect our neighborhoods from gun violence”.

"Mayor Jones remains committed to strategies of diversion, intervention, and prevention that have had a marked impact on the rates of violent crime in St. Louis. Using data-driven approaches to policing, paired with deploying licensed clinical social workers and behavioral health specialists to calls for help, has helped relieve the burden off our police department so they can respond to violent crime, as they were trained to do in our academies," a spokesperson for Mayor Jones told Spectrum News about her efforts to fight crime in St. Louis. 

In addition to Jones' membership with the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, the city of St. Louis is one of fifteen municipalities that joined President Biden's Community Violence Intervention collaborative in June 2021.

Member cities associated with the collaborative conduct meetings with then Biden Administration to "facilitate peer-to-peer learning and provide technical assistance. They also work together top incorporate both proven and new strategies to "reduce gun violence and strengthen community-based infrastructure to enhance public safety for children, families, and communities and to advance equity", accordfing to a press release announcing the collaboration.