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Monday, May 12, 2008

Police Department on Blairmont: "Are you meaning to accuse them of arson?"

Last week, I called the St. Louis Fire Department to see if they had read any of the bloggers' coverage of the arsons in Blairmontland. I wanted to see if they were aware of what we preservationists, community developers, and concerned residents all are: that Blairmont owns a lot of property in the arson-afflicted areas, and that they have a history of illegal demolitions and otherwise severely neglected property. The arsons might, in fact, be a cheaper way of realizing the slow process of demolitions that has occurred already.

The STLFD referred me to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. A detective (remember--I don't do names. I wrote down the phonetic spelling this time, but left it at work) returned my call today while I was at work.

Essentially, the conversation in my cubicle quickly became a trial of my logic and a defense of Blairmont. Also interesting was that the detective was fully aware of who or what "Blairmont" was, sometimes referring to the company as a "he" (Paul McKee, Jr.?). Read on.

As usual, this is NOT an exact transcript, just my memory of the exchange. If that sounds altogether too shaky for you to accept, feel free to disregard the post. I was pretty fired up (pun truthfully not intended), so a lot of what was said was burnt into my otherwise wont-to-falter memory.

Me: "I was just calling to see if the Police Department was aware of the owners of the property in that string of arsons last week in north St. Louis, because the Blairmont holding companies own almost all of them."

Detective: "Blairmont doesn't own them all, but, yes, we are looking into the case. Does that settle your question?"

Me: "Well, Blairmont owned nine out of eleven. That's a significant percentage."

Detective: "Well, they own a lot of buildings in the area, so that makes sense" [he laughs]

Me: "The LRA owns even more property, and not a single one of their buildings was burnt."

Det.: "Look. This city experiences arsons quite often. Are you suggesting Blairmont is committing arson? That's a pretty bold claim."

Me: "The arsons just happened to occur in the area that Blairmont is speculating within. Plus, there were eleven. I have been tracking the Blairmont companies through several websites and blogs. They routinely empty out occupied properties. At best, they remove the boards from the windows and at worst they seem to summon illegal brick rustlers. I fully believe that the case is pretty strong against Blairmont. They have an awful track record."

Det.: "I have been on the force for 14 years. These fires are not that uncommon. We've had problems with properties being vacant for years, long before Blairmont. And we've had a problem with arsons long before Blairmont too."

Me: "Well, then, let me ask you: in your 14 years, how often have 11 buildings been put up in flames in the same neighborhood in one night?"

Det.: "It's happened at least two or three times."

Me: "Two or three times doesn't seem like a lot to me. I'd say that this is a pretty suspicious occurrence. Especially when you consider that Blairmont has to take action by June in order to collect on a tax credit act he secured for land acquisition up there in north St. Louis."

Det.: "Why would he burn the buildings? That ruins the brick. Brick rustlers wouldn't want them burned."

Me: "To my knowledge, the fire helps separate the bricks from the wood so they're ready to be stacked and carted away."

Det.: "That's not my understanding. I have to disagree with that. The bricks get charred."

Me: "Well, I'm just stating what I've read on some architecture websites and blogs. Plus, the arsons make for cheaper demolitions, do they not?"

Det.: "I don't think so. I mean, the owner still has to clear away the rubble. I think it might cost more to do it that way."

Me: "I don't have the numbers on that, but I've always thought it would be cheaper to have a fire take down a building, along with brick rustlers, than it is to hire a demolition contractor to take down 75 acres worth of buildings."

Det.: "I don't think so. I think the owner still pays for all that."

Me: "Well, even if you're ready to dismiss that Blairmont might have started the fires themselves, you have to treat Blairmont properties as especially dangerous considering how often they're subjected to brick rustling, demolition by neglect, and arson. Even if it is coincidence, you have to look at the fate of each one of his buildings. They're falling down. One blogger has taken photos for the past 70 days of Blairmont properties. Like clockwork, after Blairmont gets to them, they're turned into rubble and brick rustlers get to them. Seems a little odd to me. If I were conducting an investigation of the arsons, I'd be suspicious of Blairmont. I'm not saying that it's a clear and demonstrable fact, but there is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to warrant an investigation, I think."

Det.: "I have to prove. I can't go on that kind of evidence. So you're wanting to accuse them of arson. That's pretty bold."

Me: "Blairmont has shown such a demonstrable lack of care for its properties in north St. Louis that it's hard to ignore what's happening. I would suggest you visit the blog I'm talking about. It has pictures--before and afters and stuff."

Det.: "What is it?"

Me: ""

Det.: "Well, I will look into this. Thanks for calling."

Me: "Yeah. Thanks for your time."

The detective's tone bordered on mockery. It sounded as if he was tasked with deflecting public criticism and scrutiny in light of the strong case one could make against Blairmont.

If the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is not outraged by the endangerment of city residents enough to further investigate (perhaps indirect) foul play by Blairmont, what hope do any grassroots groups and citizens have to fight the urban renewal scheme--or at least involve themselves in it?

Sure makes you wonder.


Doug Duckworth said...

Blunt controls the police.

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