For months, we have asked Chief Doyle to share information about arrests in Ferguson. We do this so that we can inform our readers about crime in our city, and follow cases through the system to find out what happens to those who were charged. He has refused to share information, making it difficult to do our job reporting on this vital quality of life issue.
Recently, Missouri Casenet has opened up portions of their database which were previously only accessible by visiting the courthouse, unless you are an attorney. This enabled us to view the details about criminal cases which Ferguson has so far refused to share. It is very time consuming, because we have to manually retrieve each record, review it, and take note of the relevant information. So far, we have done this for 4 weeks, a total of 567 criminal cases. What we found was disturbing.
Before getting into the details, it is worth briefly discussing the process. When you call 911, an officer from the Ferguson Police Department responds. In some cases, such as major incidents which require more manpower than our department can provide, they are assisted by officers from nearby departments. An officer submits a report for each incident, and if a crime was committed, that information may also be given to the county prosecutor. It goes to the county prosecutor because municipalities are not authorized to handle felony cases.
In rare cases, most often murders, but also where the local department has a conflict of interest or is unable to handle the case for some other reason, the investigation – and the report to the prosecutor – are handled by St. Louis County Police. But for most crimes, that is handled by the local police department. The court records reflect which department submitted a case for prosecution.
Our analysis found that among departments in demographically significant areas, in municipalities with sufficient population to be statistically significant, Ferguson submits felony cases at the lowest rate of any other department. Adjusting for population, Florissant submitted nearly double the number of cases, while Hazelwood and Berkeley filed three times as many.
The cases filed in Ferguson were:
- 20SL-CR09310-02, a refiling of a case involving a theft from Home Depot in 2020.
- 23SL-CR04919-01, a man broke into a house on Ferguson Avenue and attacked a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship.
- 23SL-CR05966, a woman broke into an apartment in Northwinds, pulled a knife, and punched the occupant.
- 23SL-CR06071, a man burglarized Jamaa Birth Village on Florissant Road.
- 22SL-CR07891-01, a woman flourished a handgun in an angry or threatening manner, in November 2022.
- 23SL-CR05943-01, a man flourished a handgun in an angry or threatening manner.
Four of these filings were for recent crimes. The case of “The Butcher of Blanding” was filed by St. Louis County Police. We don’t have sufficient information to follow up on any other cases, because the Ferguson Police Department refuses to provide it.
In the case of the Home Depot theft, the accused was released on recognizance, and failed to appear for his first hearing in 2021. He was arrested on a warrant, bond was set at $6,000 cash only. The following month, it was reduced to $2,000 with 10% allowed, so he walked for $200. The next hearing was set for March 2022, and … the defendant didn’t show. Bond was set at $6,000. It took 8 months to recapture him at this time, and the day after his arrest, bond was reduced to $2,000 with 10% allowed. No, I didn’t accidentally type the same thing twice, he again walked for $200. In February 2023, he again failed to appear for a hearing, and a warrant was issued with $25,000 cash bond. A few weeks later, on June 12, 2023, he was released on a recognizance bond – no cash at all. At this point, no hearing has been scheduled in this case. The long and short of it is, because a judge kept releasing somebody who has no intention of showing up to his trial, Home Depot still has no justice, more than three years after the theft.
You may not feel sorry for Home Depot, but understand this: One of the factors in the calculation of whether to leave a store open is the amount of loss to theft. When theft is frequent and prosecution is rare, stores face the choice of accepting large losses, or closing the store. This is one reason why, although residents of poor areas do a great deal of shopping, they must go elsewhere to do so. When burglary does not result in prosecution, thieves understand that there is little risk in committing crimes, and those who are unwilling to remain and be victimized move elsewhere. When drug dealers are never caught and prosecuted in a community, the streets of that community become popular meeting places for drug dealers, and residents who don’t want to see that every day move elsewhere.
To be perfectly clear, this is not a criticism of the rank and file officers. They are responding to the calls, handling the situations, filing the reports, and doing the best they can to serve our community. The decision to prosecute is a managerial one, and the buck stops at the chief’s desk. Unless you believe Ferguson has far less crime than other cities, a proposition contradicted by the department’s claim that their officers are often too busy with “real crime” to handle minor issues, then something is off kilter with prosecution of crime in our city. Transparency in our police department, with the regular release of the names of subjects and the crimes of which they are accused, is the minimum requirement.
On a related note, our charter requires that the department allow public access to their daily incident log of suspected crimes, accidents, and complaints. One week ago, we contacted the police department asking for a meeting to make arrangements to start accessing this information. Not only haven’t we met, but the officer in charge of this claims he has not even had time to entertain scheduling a meeting. Perhaps he is busy preparing probable cause statements to file with the prosecutor.