Q&A from the Hillcrest safety meeting, 1/25/21
Some 67 participants joined this meeting attended by Chief Mark Smith, Alderwoman Heather Navarro and city transportation policy planner Scott Ogilvie. We collected questions via Poll Everywhere (with social voting), and the Zoom chat box was open for questions. Since there was not enough time to answer them all online, we have collected the questions here with answers from the Trustees.
Poll Everywhere questions
Why are 2/3 of the trustees city residents and 85% of the neighborhood in Clayton? (6 votes)
Crime and safety considerations extend across the jurisdictions. Unlike elected officers of an organization, Trustees have a fiduciary role and are not expected to vote on behalf a constituency. As to how new Trustees are chosen, they are selected purely with an eye to faithful enforcement of the terms of the Trust Indenture, and not in terms of the constituency that they might represent. The Indenture makes no distinction between east, middle and west blocks and the Trustees make no distinction either. Any decision made should work for all of the blocks. We view the boundaries around Hillcrest as more germane than the boundaries between City and Clayton.
Has it been considered to close the gates during the evenings only ie 10pm-6am when schools are not in session and traffic is not a concern? (6 votes)
Closing the gates during the evenings would be an option, and is certainly not off the table. Because this would happen twice a day, the closure would have to be automated, which would have a cost to install and maintain. There would still be concerns with emergency response, traffic turnaround, snow removal, and safety around the time of the closure and opening. If the the Safety Committee chooses, they could obtain some bids for the project and propose how it would be implemented.
We are talking a lot about statistics and crime numbers. With all of the activity, we are overlooking crimes that go unreported. I think this is important to note. (5 votes)
I hope all residents will report crimes that they experience, so that we will have valid statistics to go on. We have to partner with our local law enforcement agencies.
Perhaps we should hire a security consultant with a track record of success in reducing crime to give us recommendations? (4 votes)
An interesting suggestion and not inconceivable. We have quite a bit of expertise between our local officials, residents, Officers and Trustees, including one with 30 years of urban development experience. Sometimes a consultant’s effect is simply to force an organization’s hand, and consultants can bring preconceived notions, especially if they do not have a full understanding of the local context.
We are offering a lot of reasons why the gates can’t be closed…but why are the gates on Fauquier able to be closed permanently? Don’t they have the same restrictions? (4 votes)
The same considerations pertain there but with different weights. Fauquier was closed in 1997 or so, primarily for traffic calming. Their gate blocks the most obvious access to Wilson School, putting increased pressure on DeMun, Aberdeen and Arundel, and in that way is probably slightly detrimental to us. Their gates are set farther back, their homes are less densely spaced, and there are nonresidential properties fronting on Skinker. There are only a couple of houses at the Fauquier cul-de-sac (other traffic can exit at Woodbourne), versus approx. 88 that would be in Arundel and Aberdeen cul-de-sacs. That is probably the main difference.
Are criminals checking cars in Hillcrest a concern for residents? (4 votes)
I would think so, yes. It is understandable that people don’t like this type of activity, even when it doesn’t result in actual theft. As Chief Smith pointed out, there is car checking all over the region. Of some note, these are not criminal masterminds, they are usually kids looking for easy wins. When they stop getting what they want, they will go elsewhere.
I think there would be value in discussing other crime deterrent options. An organized neighborhood watch program, cameras, License plate readers and even private security guards. I know these all cost money but if we are serious about deterring crime, it is going to cost money (3 votes)
For sure. There are a variety of options. These meetings are being held to surface some of the options and present the pros and cons. There is always a cost/benefit tradeoff. We do not want to encourage a fortress mentality. No one has said anything about race and social justice, but I will venture that they are critically important factors today, and can come into play if we start trying to determine who does and does not belong.
Do we know the consistency at which Hillcrest residents report non violent crime? If crime is not reported consistently, the data is skewed and will show low crime on the Clayton side. (2 votes)
This assumes that the crime rates are different on opposite sides of the line, and/or that Clayton residents are more likely to under-report. I am not sure that either of these is a good assumption.
Humans create problems. Not gates (2 votes)
Based on the direction people usually take this phrase, one would conclude that it is humans with gates who create problems.
Has the number of crimes of opportunity gone up recently? (2 votes)
Similar to the stock market, you cannot identify a meaningful trend on a short timescale. Over the scale of years, crime has been dropping continuously. I think it is not good statistical practice to infer from a couple of incidents that there is a crime wave.
Would a private guard (e.g. Westmoreland) be allowed? Viable? Have jurisdiction? (2 votes)
A private guard’s main function is to call police if they see anything. To have one security guard (assuming $50/hour for 10 hours per day for 365 days) adds $182,500 to the Hillcrest budget, which is approximately 1200% of our current annual expenditures and would cost each household $800/year assuming that all participated; and doubtless, many would refuse. Private security officers would probably act as a visible deterrent instead of taking action or having jurisdiction to make an arrest. There are security companies that hire off-duty police officers (at a higher price) and they have the ability to intervene and act as police officers. If they were to apprehend a criminal, they could hand off the prisoner to an on-duty officer for booking. (Consultation obtained from Chief Smith.)
What are they looking for when they rifle through cars? I’ve had mine done a few times and they seem to ignore everything. If they are looking for something specific (eg I’ve heard guns???). Then maybe we can train everyone to not leave those in their car? (1 vote)
Since the one time they rifled through my glove box, they left the money, I assume they were looking for guns. Locking cars and removing valuables is an easy way to prevent these incidents. Chief Smith pointed out that in the past, criminals were willing to break glass. It seems that is no longer as popular.
Are Clayton PD allowed to pursue an offender into STL City? (no votes)
Clayton can pursue vehicles anywhere, but it has to be for a violent crime. They can’t pursue a vehicle if all they know is that the occupant was going through unlocked cars. If they threaten someone with a gun, then they can pursue the vehicle. That’s a standard policy throughout the region. (Consultation obtained from Chief Smith.)
Can it be clarified—crime is down overall? And on a continued downward trend? (no votes)
On a timescale of years, there is a continued downward trend. The trendline is always a bit jagged. Since there are relatively few incidents, just one or two causes a large temporary change in the rate.
I didn’t understand the relationship between closing the gates and building cul-de-sacs. Could that be clarified? (no votes)
Cul-de-sacs are usually designed that way from the beginning, and not created by building a gate across a 30’ street. If the gates are closed, the dead-end streets become a cul-de-sac where vehicles must be able to turn around. Expecting them to back out is not safe and not good urban design. The point of the diagrams was that you need more diameter than we have, if you want to build a turnaround.
Is there a report on details about the carjacking for those that missed this news
I’m not aware of it being reported in the media, but it was an armed carjacking around 1:30 a.m. on August 4, 2020. Police didn’t officially identify any suspects in the case.They have a strong suspicion that it was a group of criminals doing car thefts and robberies throughout the mid-county and west county areas.This group was very active from May until they were arrested in Manchester in October. We have no way of proving it though. (Consultation obtained from Chief Smith.)
Questions from the chat
if we put in an electric gate, can we give the gate codes to Republic and EMS and/or others by special request?
We would certainly provide the codes to such agencies, but our experience from the years when the gates were closed was that responders will take the quickest open route, not stop to open a gate. I think they would more likely go around to Wydown, which could require a U-turn on Skinker if responding from the north.
How do we get away from having our cars searched everynight?
Locking them up, removing valuables, parking them off the street, and ensuring good illumination would be very helpful.
If the gates were to be opened and closed at night only who would be responsible for opening and closing the gates? Volunteers in the community? A privately hired company or person?
Making these daily changes to the streetscape involves significant liability for the Trustees and neighborhood, as it introduces a risk of accident to drivers, pedestrians, the gates, and the person operating them. The very process of closing them, especially in dim lighting, is inherently dangerous. It would be important for the closure to be at exactly the same time every night in order to provide consistency of expectations to drivers and compliance with our posted signs. We therefore could not rely on volunteers, but would need either an automated system, or potentially a contracted service worker.
Has anyone considered the option of automated gates? They could be programmed to be opened from 6:00am-10:00pm for example. Why would we not consider this option?
We would consider this option. The current gates are not designed to be automated and we believe there would be a significant cost involved in automating them. It would probably be cheaper to replace them outright. The newly reconvened Safety Committee may choose to prepare a request for proposals and obtain workmanlike bids for this job.
how can I become part of the hillcrest safety committee?
Email Bill Schute, HHA President: firstname.lastname@example.org
I also think controlling speed on Skinker is important also for the safety of crossing skinner to go to the park.
Granted, but this is not something we control. There are early discussions of traffic calming on Skinker, outside of Hillcrest’s jurisdiction.
what if you only close Aberdeen or Arundel, not both at the same time? maybe alternating months or 1st half of the month Aberdeen is open, 2nd half Arundel is
This was done in the past and we would discourage it as it was seen as unsatisfactory by neighbors. With one entrance open, we would discourage neither cut-throughs nor crime. It introduces constant change to the streetscape, which is not a good practice. One benefit is that it would provide a controlled experiment, if incidents were carefully measured with the gate both open and closed.
So, how do we move forward on this topic? Many options are being brought up on the chat and it would be nice to develop a plan moving forward. Safety committee, review of automated options etc…
We would like to have neighbors join a Safety Committee, which should be representative of the entire neighborhood, to clarify expectations and develop proposals. This would be a committee of the HHA and would report to the HHA Officers.
Is it a certainty that a night time gate closure will prevent theives from walking the neighborhood? Could the thieves just park on Skinker and still walk in and out of the neighborhood? We don't know.
Granted, we don’t know. The guests on the call echoed that street closures have not been shown conclusively to reduce crime.
Will the trustees accept the recommendations of the safety committee?
I can’t answer this question explicitly. The Trustees can’t commit a priori to accepting any and all recommendations that the committee could possibly make. We have a fiduciary duty to the entire neighborhood, extending across multiple domains of activity, not only safety. It is also not a purely Trustee decision. The Trustees operate the gates and are charged with ensuring that the neighborhood is policed. Their fiscal authority is limited to about $6,000/year. HHA was established to complement the Trustees’ role, and via their collections of voluntary dues, has the power of the purse. Trustees and HHA are fortunate to have a good working relationship and try to achieve consensus. The ideal situation would be for the Safety Committee to make a recommendation that can be accepted by a consensus of HHA Officers & Hillcrest Trustees, that would be acceptable to a plurality of neighbors, and would be effective and sustainable.