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A thin man with bloodshot eyes who looks close to 50 is walking west on Evans. When he's asked about the day Ketrease was killed, he stops long enough to shout angrily, "I saw the baby! That was a stolen truck! It killed that baby!"
Although the Murphys moved shortly after the funeral, their former landlady and a group of neighbors are mingling about in front of the place where Ketrease was mortally injured. While they're rehashing that day's events, a van full of men speeds down the street. The former landlady yells at them to slow down. It's a stolo, someone says: It's new and it's flying down the street.
On the day of the accident, they say, the stolen truck and police officers played cat-and-mouse. In one version of events that has spread through the neighborhood, the police pursued. The driver, a man known for stealing cars and selling them for parts, sped up and outran the officers, who gave up the chase. He then turned the keys over to neighborhood kids, boys perhaps like Dominick. In another version, the police chased the truck until it stopped in an alley and the occupants scattered. The truck wasn't towed, and the thirteen-year-old climbed in.
"It's the police fault that little girl got killed," says Annalyn's mother. "They shoulda' caught the little boy."
"The police know everything that go on over here, but they just slacking," says Annalyn's brother, who is one of the group gathered there. He's drinking beer, though it's only midmorning. "They just slacking on their ass, eatin' doughnuts, ain't trying to do shit," he says.
St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa says the department is trying to combat the problem of stolen cars. He says he's not aware of a pursuit that may have occurred between officers and the stolen car earlier that day.
"Somebody was killed," Mokwa says. "It's a real tragedy. There's a young girl that's been hurt and people are angry as heck. And so now they speculate that they see all these stolen cars and they see all these circumstances, none of which most people can document that they did anything about. If we knew there were stolen cars driving up and down Evans Avenue, we'd have a dragnet."
He points to the measures he unveiled with Mayor Francis Slay at a November 19 press conference. They announced that 50 full-time detectives were now working to stop car theft and that three more "bait" cars had been added to their fleet of one. Since the department started using bait cars a few months ago, officers have made more than 100 arrests.
In addition, the police chief and mayor unveiled the HEAT (Help Eliminate Auto Theft) program: City residents can choose to put stickers in the front and rear windshields of their cars that give the police permission to pull the vehicles over between 1 and 5 a.m. and check ownership. "If you're not in your car," according to the mayor's press release, "whoever is will be in trouble."
But on St. Louis Coptalk, the Internet message board for St. Louis police officers, the reception has been frosty. It isn't just because posters think the methods are ineffective; cops are also chafing at the department policy banning high-speed chases, some of which have ended with the deaths of innocents and at least one lawsuit. (For more on the topic, see Bruce Rushton's story, "Carnage," in the June 11 issue.) In St. Louis, as in many cities around the nation, if a suspect speeds away from an officer attempting to pull the car to the side of the road, the pursuit is terminated. And a number of officers think the ban only encourages car theft.
"The sticker is a waste of time unless the department changes the pursuit policy," writes "Mark." And "Renegades of Funk" is more pointed. ".... if the sh**bags don't stop in a reported stolen vehicle, what makes the city think they are going to stop in a reported stolen vehicle they just stole in order for us to check ownership? Not to mention the fact that all these yutes know we aren't allowed to pursue...."
"It's like bringing a box of Band-Aids to a leper colony," writes P.O. Mullanphy. "It's not going to do a damn thing."
Chief Mokwa says he understands the officers' frustration. "We're trapped, we can't win either way," he acknowledges. "The issue here is much more complex than any of us are willing to accept." Instead of saying, "'There's something wrong in this person's life at fourteen,'" he notes, "everybody wants to know if the pursuit policy is causing it, or why haven't the police done anything about it?"
Car thefts haven't been taken seriously, Mokwa adds. Only recently have police, prosecutors and the courts recognized that the crime has reached unacceptable levels. Just two weeks ago, the chief says, he went with Mayor Slay to talk to all of the circuit judges "to impress upon them how much neighborhood groups are frustrated" with the problem of stolen cars and "a system that has not perceived stolen autos as a priority."
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