Helicopter

Fortunately, Missouri lawmakers are staying in Jefferson City while they debate crime this week.

Three hours away, in St. Joseph, the Missouri State Highway Patrol helicopter might have kept these elected officials from getting a good night’s sleep.

Late Tuesday and early Wednesday, St. Joseph police and other agencies engaged in another overnight enforcement operation with the use of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s helicopter. Online flight data shows the craft circling over St. Joseph for hours, assisting officers with numerous high-speed ground pursuits that resulted in 19 arrests.

This operation, along with the recent drive-by shooting death of a toddler, illustrates a grim reality that lawmakers should bear in mind during a special session. Crime is not just a crisis for St. Louis and Kansas City, despite statistics that show a shocking rise in shooting deaths in the state’s two biggest cities.

It is a statewide problem that exists in rural areas and in mid-sized cities like St. Joseph. That’s why the patrol brings its helicopter to St. Joseph on a regular basis.

In the public’s mind, these helicopter operations are associated with vehicle thefts, although in reality many of the arrests end with other charges. There is no doubt, however, that vehicle thefts remain St. Joseph’s version of gun violence, as far as statistical ignominy goes.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s annual “hot spots” report shows that vehicle thefts actually got worse in St. Joseph from 2018 to 2019. The NICB ranks St. Joseph as third-worst in the nation for vehicle thefts, on a per-capita basis, in 2019. The four-county St. Joseph metropolitan statistical area recorded 770 vehicle thefts, compared to 674 in 2018 and 781 in 2017.

In the past, some St. Joseph police objected to a report that draws numbers from a wider statistical area that makes crime-plagued big cities look better, but on an apples-to-apples basis the data clearly demonstrates that the problem persists, regardless of how you slice it. St. Joseph’s metro area ranked 10th for vehicle thefts in 2018 before rising to third. In last year’s ranking, only Bakersfield, California, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, were worse.

All of the top 10 cities, for some reason, are west of the Mississippi River, including Springfield, Missouri, and Topeka, Kansas.

If anything, these statistics show there’s no quick fix to the problem of crime and there’s no particular area that’s truly immune. A helicopter operation or a special session will not magically make the problem go away, but all are part of the incremental steps necessary to making all communities safer.