St. Louis Public Safety Committee hears testimony on crime in the city

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – With violent crime continuing to rise in the City of St. Louis could the fire department be part of the solution?

That is one idea being suggested to aldermen trying to come up with a comprehensive crime fighting plan.

The Board of Aldermen`s Public Safety Committee is holding hearings to get expert advice on how to combat crime.

The first of those hearings was Tuesday morning and the first expert to appear was criminologist Rick Rosenfeld from the University of Missouri St. Louis.

And among Rosenfeld`s suggestions is using firefighters during their 'downtime between fires' as he calls it to assist police with foot patrols in high density areas like Washington Avenue on weekends, adding more eyes and ears on the streets, freeing up police officers to concentrate on hot spot policing.

Rosenfeld also recommends combining the budgets of the police and fire departments into one public safety budget so money can be moved around to where it is needed the most, which these days he says would be for fighting crime.

'I`m not suggesting that we reduce the number of firefighters and add that same number to the police department,' Rosenfeld said. 'What I`m suggesting is we share the function.  Just as the police are always present at a fire, fire department representatives can assist the police in their activities as well. It`s a two way street.'

One of the aldermen on the committee is 21st ward Alderman Antonio French.

'I think a few of Professor Rosenfeld`s ideas are a little naïve of the political reality,' French said. 'When he suggests moving a few million dollars from the fire department over to the police department, in theory that might sound like a good idea. In practicality that is a very difficult thing to do,' he said.

Rosenfeld says he suggests those firefighters would not be armed at first but that if a corps of broad-functioning safety officers is permanently established, some could carry weapons.

Rosenfeld also told the aldermen he thinks hot spot policing works but that police need to concentrate more on so called hot people in those hot spot areas by visiting them personally to let them know the police are watching.

A spokesperson for the fire department referred FOX2 News to the mayor`s office for a comment.  A spokesperson there said this is the first they have heard of the idea but that fighting crime is a top priority nothing should be discounted before being fully vetted and considered.