Keeping Soulard safe, was the focus of a forum that featured the community’s leaders in crime prevention. The Soulard Special Business District hosted its annual outreach event on November 11th. Speakers highlighted how the SSBD, a special taxing district, is working to increase safety and security in the district. And, law enforcement outlined steps residents can take to help prevent themselves from becoming victims of crime.
Each year, the forum aims to engage residents and property owners in the SSBD’s mission to increase safety in the district.
“We really do want people to get involved. Nothing promotes safety like involvement of people who live in the neighborhood,” said SSBD Board of Commissioners Chairman Luke Reynolds.
Two of the SSBD’s main initiatives include increasing officer presence in the district, and heading up the Soulard security camera system. The system includes 29 cameras at ten strategic locations. The SSBD helped fund cameras at seven of those locations, along with the Soulard Restoration Group and Soulard Business Association, and the Mardi Gras Foundation. City tax dollars paid for the remaining cameras. SSBD funding also helps maintain the system.
“We take service and maintenance very seriously,” said SSBD Commissioner Bill Clendenin, who heads the district’s camera effort. “The SSBD is very important to this effort because the SSBD has recurring revenue that we can rely on to fund the ongoing maintenance and operations.”
The cameras all feed into the SLMPD’s Real Time Crime Center. And, they have proven useful in helping police catch offenders.
“The system has been well worth it and we’re off to a good start,” said Clendenin, adding that the SSBD is actively looking to fund cameras at an additional three to four locations, with several cameras at each location.
To increase officer presence, the SSBD funds patrols by The City’s Finest. TCF employs off-duty St. Louis police officers to conduct patrols throughout the week, usually between 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. They have constant access to police radio and monitor recent crime activity and trends with information from the SLMPD. The officers operate under the direction of St. Louis Police Sgt. Thomas Kitchell.
At the forum, Kitchell outlined an overall drop in crime in the neighborhood, while providing some inside knowledge into how criminals target victims, specifically in Soulard.
“They’ll sit at a bar and sit there for two hours and just watch,” said Kitchell, adding that they are usually watching for people to stow guns and valuables in their trunks.
Within the past year, the SSBD purchased a dedicated patrol vehicle for TCF officers to use in the district. The vehicle aims to help maximize the time officers are spending in Soulard, by cutting out any time commuting to pick up a patrol vehicle. It also helps with visibility, which Kitchell says is a top priority.
St. Louis Police Capt. Ryan Cousins also spoke at the forum, offering crime prevention tips and highlighting the area’s safety record in relation to gun crimes.
“As far as gun crimes are concerned, you’re one of the safest neighborhoods not only in this district, but in the city,” said Capt. Cousins.
Rounding out speakers from the SLMPD was Public Affairs Officer Gagik Khoudian, who emphasized the importance of vigilance.
“Crime isn’t about a zip code, where you live, or how much money you have,” said Khoudian. “Crime will happen, you just have to be ready for it. It doesn’t discriminate.”
Some of Khoudian’s advice to prevent crime included parking in well-lit areas, staying off the phone after parking and while entering a destination, keeping valuables out of parked cars and out of plain view, and trying not to park on side streets or in alleys.
Khoudian was also among speakers to urge attendees to call 911 if ever in doubt. And when dialing 911, he said callers should pay special attention to a suspicious person’s vehicle and appearance to provide to dispatch.
In addition to patrols and cameras, the SSBD pays to maintain the SLMPD substation at Barton and 11th streets, which helps keep an increased officer presence in the neighborhood.
Property taxes fund the SSBD. Treasurer Terry Hoffman broke down the budget for attendees at the November forum. He informed the group that the projected 2019 tax rate is $.5410 per $100 assessed value, down about four cents from 2018. The tax provides an annual overall budget of approximately $300,000.
“The fact that the SSBD exists is really fortunate,” said Reynolds. “When you pay taxes, seldomly does it go 100% to your neighborhood. The SSBD exists to increase safety in this neighborhood, and those tax dollars are going directly back into the community.”