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Byers' Beat: An inside look at thousands of cases going nowhere in St. Louis

An internal database showed more than 4,500 cases were pending near the end of 2022.

ST. LOUIS — Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.

St. Louis police officers who were around before St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner took office in 2017 tell me the number of cases awaiting decisions from prosecutors at any given time hovered between 300 to 500 cases.

Now, it’s in the thousands.

And this week, a video that went viral of a woman going on a racist tirade and beating a neighbor’s door with a hammer thrust those cases into the spotlight.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office says there are about 3,000 in their queue.

St. Louis police tell me it’s about 4,100 as of today.

But every day, that number changes.

And cases disappear.

That’s because the system that tracks them was only designed to hold about three years of data.

I obtained a copy of the database when it contained more than 4,500 pending cases near the end of 2022.

These are cases for which police officers have made arrests, and asked Gardner’s prosecutors to make a decision on whether to issue charges, refuse to issue charges or take them under advisement – which means there’s not enough to issue charges, but also not enough to refuse the case outright.

When COVID-19 hit, Gardner’s office began requiring officers to apply for charges via an email drop box.

That protocol still stands.

Judy Kline’s arrest in January 2022 on suspicion of first-degree burglary is among those that police sent in that drop box.

First-degree burglary is a nonviolent offense, according to the FBI’s standards.

There are about 40 other first-degree burglaries in the database 5 On Your Side’s Jacob Kuerth and I analyzed.

Here is a look at the top 10 most common cases pending review from Gardner’s office:

  • Possession of a controlled substance – more than 1,000
  • Tampering with a motor vehicle, first-degree – more than 500
  • Resisting arrest – more than 400
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm – more than 200
  • Unlawful possession of a weapon flourishing/controlled substance – more than 200
  • Tampering with a motor vehicle, second-degree – more than 150
  • Stealing – more than 150
  • Burglary, second-degree – more than 150
  • Stealing a motor vehicle – more than 100
  • Property damage first-degree – more than 100

Now, the St. Louis Police Department is undergoing a massive overhaul of the cases.

Every officer has been asked to go through every case they’ve ever sent to Gardner’s office during the past three years, and attach every email they’ve sent to prosecutors seeking charges.

Internally, according to emails I’ve obtained, it’s called the Citywide PAW Project.

PAW stands for Pending Application of Warrant.

It’s police jargon used to label cases that have been sent to prosecutors for a decision.

The department told me it got a final disposition from Gardner’s office on Kline’s case this week – after videos of the crime went viral on TikTok.

The circuit attorney's office provided the following statement:

"The Circuit Attorney’s Office is working diligently to address the situation. We have invested additional resources to handle these cases pending application of warrants (PAW’s) and we look forward to continuing to reduce and eventually eliminate this number.

"Our office currently accepts in-person appointments for police officers applying for warrants."

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