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Is St. Louis The 2nd Most Dangerous City?

Are we really the nation’s 2nd most dangerous city? In a word, maybe. This year St. Louis dropped from the #1 spot to the #2 slot, behind Detroit, as the most dangerous city in America according to a controversial study. So is it true?

As with any collection of numbers, it really depends upon how you put them together. What do you weigh more heavily? What do you include, what do you exclude? There really is no single right way to analyze the FBI crime data. However, according to the FBI and local officials there are a number of wrong ways to do it.

Do I feel unsafe in the city? No. Are there places where I might feel unsafe at 1am, you bet! But there are likely places I’d feel unsafe in the safest city? Absolutely.

To those of us that actually live and work inside the city we know the truth — the city is really a safe place unless you are dealing drugs or happen to live in an area where drugs & gangs constitute the main form of commerce. So, if you are white the city is pretty safe and if you happen to be poor and black you likely live in a very unsafe area. Our suburbanites are likely thinking in their McMansion’s miles from town, “I knew the city wasn’t safe after all.”

One of the common claims against the methodology of the report is that it looks at cities and not metropolitan areas. Unlike St. Louis, many older cities in the country were able to expand their city limits without changing the state constitution. True enough, but it would likely be true that defining Metropolitan regions might prove a challenge. Should St. Louis’ full 16-county region be examined instead of simply the City of St. Louis? Does every police force keep required FBI records or does that only fall to bigger cities?

Frankly if the citizens of our community don’t like the fact that St. Louis is tiny in geography we need to do something about it. Let’s take a big and necessary step and make the city and county one entity. And I don’t mean have the city join the other ninety some municipalities in the county — I mean make the city and county ONE government entity. Other regions have done just that, gotten over decades of incremental growth and small fifdoms. I can hear the objectors now, “…that is never going to happen in St. Louis.” Fine, stop bitching about the size of the city when cities, not regions, are compared.

Of course when cities are compared and we come out on top or near the top you don’t hear any complaining then. Our best water ranking, for example, is based on cities and not an aggregate of the region’s water. How would our water have compared if it was mixed with water from the balance of the region? And when regions are compared we often take credit in the city, not pointing out that we’d never be at or near the top on our own.

What is really sad is that nobody seems to be upset about being #1 in STDs. Where is the RCGA on this one? Relocate your business to St. Louis — if your employees don’t get shot they might get gonorrhea. OK, back to the crime stats.
From the San Jose Mercury News:

This year, the report looked at 378 cities with at least 75,000 people. Its conclusions were based on per-capita rates for homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft.

OK, so we know what the factors are: per-capita rates for six levels of crime. Again, some people use the false notion that looking at St. Louis as a city (which we are) is unfair because we’ve been unable to grow. So I pulled up some basic data on the top 10 of the list just to see if we can spot a trend.


The numbers are all over the board. Detroit, for example, is twice the geographic area of St. Louis and has a greater population density than us. St. Louis has 13% of our region’s population while the totals range from 1% up to 53%. Oakland California, across the bay from San Francisco, is very close to our same size, has greater density but has a much smaller percentage of the region’s total population. I should note here that Wiki uses total area within a city limits to calculate their density, whereas I listed their land area and excluded the amount of water so if you do the math it doesn’t work out.

So what does all this tell us? First, you can use data to tell any story you want — just a matter of how you arrange the numbers for others. But what I see from the above is that the top 10 list includes a variety of city types — central cities like St. Louis as well as areas like Camden NJ across the river from Philly. All Camden needs to do is lose another 4,319 people and they’ll fall below the 75K minimum threshold for this report.

But what do these cities have in common that I’ve not shown on the chart? Race and poverty. Without checking in each city, I think it is fair to say that whites do not constitute a majority population in any of the ten. This is not to say that if white were a majority the crime rate would be less, as that is certainly not necessarily true. What this does illustrate is a likely “spatial mismatch” between residents and employment — jobs are not in the places where people live.

We already know that affluent whites don’t turn to gangs to survive on the mean cul-de-sac streets of the gated subdivision. For that matter, neither do affluent blacks or anyone else. However, for those on the lower rungs of the region’s economic ladder, sometimes crime may seem the only viable option for a better life.

For me, while this report might have flaws, I think our city fathers should not have spent time trying to get the report shelved rather than published. Instead, we need to take a hard serious look at our city and how wealth and jobs are not shared. The data is based on a per-capita basis so increasing our total population will drop us in the rankings provided our number of crimes remain unchanged. Of course, dropping the total numbers of these crimes must also be a goal.

And while I appreciate the fact that Walgreens and Family Dollar are willing to open suburban-ish stores in some of our poorer neighborhoods to take back the profits to their corporate cities (suburban Chicago and Charlotte NC, respectively), I don’t think turning the city into a generic suburb is the right solution. We are not going to grow the city by making the city look just like everywhere else in our region. We must be urban and act like a city should act. Instead of dinky little houses at the intersection of Natural Bridge and West Florissant we should have 3-5 story structures that scale back into the neighborhoods. Ditto throughout the region.

At a minimum we need to accommodate those of us that chose to get around by means other than the private automobile. This can be a simple as actually planning a sidewalk to connect the public sidewalk to the front door of businesses. I know, simple concept but overlooked in our city and throughout the region. Maybe our market is ready for new commercial mixed-use buildings but we certainly have pedestrians and transit users that need to be accommodated as we expect them to walk to these retailers. Our residents also use bicycles so ensuring they have a place to park and lock their bikes. Over time we can incrementally get more and more urban in our building form, as the market permits. The market, you see, is not a fixed thing. Tastes and shopping patterns shift. Development patterns in the city and region seem etched in stone, never budging.

Something must give or we will continue to have a stagnant population with high per-capita crime rates.


When Stealing is not really Stealing

April 6, 2007 Crime 23 Comments

By now you’ve heard that 15 of St. Louis’ finest were involved in using World Series tickets last fall — tickets that were evidence in cases against persons arrested for scalping them.  It seems that of the 15 it was 8 that were directly involved.  None, however, will be fired.

Mayor Slay, a member of the police board, affirmed Chief Mokwa’s recommendation:

These eight officers should be suspended from duty for a while – and when they return from their suspensions, they should be reduced in rank to the department’s lowest level: that of probationary officers. At that rank, there are no second chances for a police officer: one problem, and they are out, without an appeal.

This punishment gives eight officers one final chance to prove that they deserve their community’s trust – and a thousand opportunities a day, as they do their jobs on the streets, to make amends for their serious mistake. 

To others I spoken with, including city employees, these officers tampered with and stole evidence but are being treated differently.  Sure, they put the used tickets into evidence after the games but I don’t think that counts.  Granted, had they not used the tickets they would have been wasted which is different than taking say a person’s watch out of evidence.   Would city employees or even private citizens in private companies be given such a break?  Doubtful.

Two police organizations are taking opposite views.  One pressured Mokwa not to fire the officers involved while another says if all involved were black they would have been fired — that this is preferential treatment for white officers. I hope the difference is not race but it may well be.

So I pose the question to you: did these officers “steal” evidence and therefore should be fired and face criminal charges from Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce?  Or was this simple “poor judgement” on their part, no crime committed?