NewsThe SouthSider

Crime concerns eclipse airport talk at ward meeting

DUTCHTOWN — Concerns over public safety trumped airport privatization at a south side ward meeting this past week, after a privatization proponent pulled out of what was meant to be a discussion by both sides on the topic.

Dr. Douglass Petty said he decided to pull out of the discussion because he wasn’t sure what the meeting’s organizers wanted. That left privatization opponent Glenn Burleigh alone to give a present his case against any attempt to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Aiport.

But the questions and emotion at the 20th Ward meeting at the Thomas Dunn Center became most active in response to Third District Police Captain Ryan Cousins’ repot on crime in the ward.

The good news so far is that overall crime in the ward is down 17 percent this year, said Cara Spencer, the ward’s alderwoman. But the bad news is that for the first four months of the year, total crime is up 24.3 percent in the Dutchtown neighborhood, according to the city’s police department’s monthly report.  The report also indicates a 12.1 percent drop in Gravois Park.

“Your crime over the years has steadily gone down,” Cousins said. However, he said, “Gravois Park and Dutchtown is pretty much where we get most of our calls.” He said police would work to bring it down more in Gravois Park and Dutchtown.

The 20th Ward includes all or part of Gravois Park, Dutchtown, Marine Villa and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods. Its general boundaries are Broadway, Cherokee Street, Grand Boulevard and Meramec street.

And while crime is decreasing in the area, “This is not really a comfort when you’ve been shot or somebody gets robbed,” Cousins said.

Available resources include four mobile cameras costing about $400,000 each and SWAT teams.

Answering a question about low-level drug dealers, Cousins said the first time they’re arrested will not be the last time people in a neighborhood see them. A good way to deal with somebody who keeps selling is to get a six-month neighborhood order of protection.

Asked what to do about people who trash up the parks, Cousins discouraged residents from abandoning the park. That is the attitude that says “We’re trying to be safe, and we say, hey, we’re not going there any more.”

A better approach might be going to an activity that police attend, like cleanup day, he said.

He cautioned against moving against possible troublemakers in a park. “We have to be considerate, also that we’re not violating somebody’s rights,” he said.

Asked what a newcomer should do to stay safe, Cousins said people should get to know their neighbors. People should create a call list of their block. And 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer said blocks often have Facebook pages.

“If you’re not at home, please don’t have anybody deliver a package to your home,” Cousins said.

After that discussion, Burleigh, who is pushing for a citywide vote on any effort to privatize airport, made his case for keeping things the way they are.

“There are no major airports in the continental United States that are part of this program,” Burleigh said. Only the airports in San Juan, Puerto Rico and a couple of small regional airports have gone private, he said.

“We don’t believe that the airport should be privatized without a vote of the people,” Burleigh said.

“Unfortunately, the people who would be able to answer your questions opted not to show up tonight,” Spencer said.

Petty, communications manager for the team of advisors to the committee examining whether the city should lease the airport, was scheduled to attend, but, according to Spencer, pulled out the day before the meeting. He said he didn’t know the exact time of the presentation, the amount of time allotted and whether audio visual equipment would be available, according to an email published by Spencer on social media.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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