“Safer Missouri, Stronger Missouri” is a new business-led statewide plan aimed at reducing crime. The state’s largest business group – the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry – is leading the charge.
“Crime is hurting Missouri’s economy. It’s impacting businesses large and small in communities of all sizes. It’s hurting our ability to attract business investment. In some cases, crime is driving jobs out of the state,” said Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Businesses are united. This is a crisis that must be addressed now. We know that many problems need to be handled locally, but statewide policy must be deployed as well.”
According to a new report out by the Chamber, Missouri is a top 10 state for a host of undesirable crime measures. It says Missouri ranks sixth in violent crimes per capita. The state is ninth highest in property crimes per person and ranks fourth in gun deaths, according to the Chamber.
“We did months of research and investigation, talking to a lot of experts in the field, talking to businesses, talking to community groups truly around the nation,” he said. “The report – it’s very in depth and I don’t think there’s ever been a statewide report like this that we can remember in Missouri.”
Recommendations in the report include 8 categories:
*Using evidence-based and hot spot approaches to crime reduction
*Adding more crime-fighting technology
*Addressing substance misuse and mental illness
*Boosting police forces and recruitment of law enforcement officers
*Reducing the rate of offenders on probation or parole who re-enter jails
*Improve training and job opportunities for prisoners to help them successfully re-enter into the community
*Increase prosecutorial consistency and transparency
Mehan said the state must work to improve the public perception of law enforcement.
“That’s one of the first things we heard when we investigated this with law enforcement,” he said. “We have to examine the funding and probably take a look at salary levels for different police departments. I mean, we’re down hundreds of officers right now and we’ve got to somehow stop that trend and switch it around. I point to Lincoln University and Harris Stowe is trying to establish that as a career to aspire to, versus having a negative perception of it.”
He said the group encourages businesses to look at their wages and ensure their pay is fair.
“But as everyone knows, in this day and age, there’s been a huge inflationary pressure on wage rates and what have you,” said Mehan. “The trouble is that with 8% plus inflation, it’s very hard, especially for a small business to keep up with that on the pay scale. So now we are talking about a federal problem – and that’s inflation. And, unfortunately, I think we’re in a bad cycle and I don’t know when it’s going to end. But it’s when you get to discussing public safety, it’s all of the above. It’s not any fault of the Missouri business community for trying to keep up with inflation for their employees. But there’s other things that need to happen, like early intervention from a mental health standpoint, or making sure our education system is teaching the right things and the right skills for a generation of the future, that workforce of the future to come out and be attractive to employers. You talk to any employer right now and they desperately need workers, they desperately need talented workers, and talented workers with soft skills, which includes showing up, showing up on time, staying in a job more than a couple of weeks. You may think I’m kidding but we hear these stories all around the state, frankly, all around the country, that it’s just a tough time to find and attract workers.”
He said Missouri needs to make sure it has the most competitive business climate.
“If we have the good jobs, and we do a good job, raising people’s awareness of that, and also making sure that the kids of today turn or can have the qualifications of tomorrow, then we’ll go a long way towards reducing the probability that they might turn to crime. That’s a macro approach, I get it. But between that as a long-term goal and some immediate things, like effectively funding law enforcement, trying to change the public perception of them and properly funding and deploying mental health programs, that might intercept someone that is having a tough time and is considering committing a violent crime,” said Mehan.
The plan has the support of Gov. Mike Parson, a former Polk County Sheriff.
“Public safety will always be a top priority for our administration. With the support of the Missouri Chamber, our state’s business community, and our law enforcement professionals, we are ready to put good ideas to work to combat crime in our state,” said Gov. Mike Parson. “It’s incredibly powerful to see the business community uniting around ways to solve our crime problem with the Safer Missouri, Stronger Missouri initiative. We are excited to work with the Missouri Chamber to move forward with this statewide approach that’s focused on fighting violent crime, supporting law enforcement, and making our communities safer.”
The Chamber plans to work with lawmakers and state departments to roll out some legislation next year.
“We’ve got the Director of Public Safety and the Director of Corrections for the state of Missouri that were really excited about the release of this report. And there’s a lot of people that want to get cracking on making some of these changes that may have an impact. A lot of this, hopefully can thread the needle and be bipartisan,” said Mehan.
The full report is available at mochamber.com
To listen to the interview with President Dan Mehan, click below (18:31).
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