Crime in St. Louis: A Bright Spot

2017 is on pace to boast the second –LOWEST national crime rate since 1990, with near record low murders. Overall crime nation-wide is projected to drop by almost 2%, the second lowest since 1990, violent crime projected to fall by 0.6%, the second lowest point in 25 years.

But here in St. Louis it’s quite the opposite. We were on pace for the second-HIGHEST homicide rate since 1990 until the cold snap hit, even with the slow down in crime, we haven’t seen rates this high in decades. Overall crime is up YTD 1.1% as of November and even more alarming, person crimes are up 7.6% and homicides are up 11% year to date.

But crime isn’t up everywhere in the city. In fact, crime is down significantly in some of the southside neighborhoods with the most crime historically. The same neighborhoods that have the most density and diversity, the most poverty and vacancy.

The Cherokee Neighborhoods (Gravois Park, Marine Villa, Benton Park and Benton Park West), collectively have seen a very distinct and significant drop in crime compared to the rest of the city in 2017. In fact, crime is down overall in these 4 neighborhoods collectively by 8.4%, down 16% in Gravois Park. Homicides are down a stunning 46%.

So what’s driving this remarkable decrease?

According to Citylab, the great crime decline that the most major American cities have seen over the last 25 years can be attributed to community grassroots efforts like building playgrounds and employing young men. Earlier this year, Gravois Park and Benton Park West neighbors worked with the Cherokee Business District to apply for and install a brand new playground donated by New Balance. And for the last several years, this community has been a top employer for STL Youth Jobs, putting our young men and women to work.

3rd District Police Captain Shawn Dace on foot in Gravois Park

The Washington Post yesterday points to community policing and establishing closer ties with people living in violent neighborhoods. The Cherokee neighborhoods are unique in the City in that we have two SLMPD beat officers assigned to do just that. Not paid by a special Community Improvement District. Not overtime answering to a particular neighborhood association or business. Officers Garrett and Jackson are assigned by 3rd District Shawn Dace to patrol all 4 neighborhoods, to get to know the kids, the neighbors, the community as a whole. And they do an excellent job.

Cherokee Beat Officers Jazmon Garrett and Devin Jackson

Yesterday, our City appointed a new Police Commissioner, Chief John Hayden who described building citizen trust through “having outdoor roll calls in struggling neighborhoods, by attending community meetings and seeking feedback, but most importantly by walking the streets and talking to our citizens face-to-face.” As we struggle to keep our beat officers in place, a new commander in chief with these priorities gives me hope.

3rd District Officer Terrell Cotton tosses a football with kids in Gravois Park

While two beat cops and a playground are no panacea, and we still have crime issues, we should take seriously the impact community and community policing has on the crime rates in our neighborhoods. The small yet significant strides we have made in the Cherokee neighborhoods should be not only nurtured but used as a model city-wide. As many of our nation’s major cities are learning: community makes all the difference.




  • someone_else_123

    Short version: publishing this should count as a campaign contribution to Spencer’s reelection campaign by nextSTL, because it’s a badly analyzed piece of boosterism, and I suspect everyone involved knows that.

    There are some major statistical and criminological issues with this claim (which Spencer should know, which brings her credibility into question.)

    (1) Homicide is “swing-y,” and a poor indicator for other types of crime. Stranger murder is incredibly rare, and homicide is not the sort of thing that community outreach is going to prevent (unless, for instance, you’ve got volunteers present at the moment your drunk neighbor impulsively shoots his wife.) Individual neighborhoods, or even groups of neighborhoods, are too small for the results to be statistically significant, so a change in the murder rate is basically just a roll of the dice.

    (2) St. Louis neighborhoods are too small and too arbitrarily drawn for changes in crime to be statistically significant. For instance, TGE showed a moderate increase in crime this year, in part because of crimes committed at Schnucks. If you moved Schnucks to BPW or TGS, you’d see a rise in crime in those neighborhoods and a fall in TGE. In general, if the area of the region analyzed can be easily expressed in acres, it’s too small for crime rates to be meaningful numbers.

    (3) The crime rates appear to be computed based on the 2010 census populations, which are almost certainly too large. The city-wide estimate is that we’ve lost 2.5% since 2010, and it’s likely the loss in these neighborhoods is even larger. The local crime rates are probably up when you account for population loss.

    (4) The link between community outreach and crime rates is tenuous at best. There are so many other factors (demographics, economics, childhood lead exposure…) involved that positing this relationship is irresponsible.

    All of these are things Spencer knows. It’s unfortunate she wrote this, because up until now I’ve found her to be a hard-headed, honest analyst, but now she’s drifted into typical politician behavior. I suspect it’s because she knows she’s going to be primaried hard in 2019 and she’s starting to build up a defense ahead of time. It’s too bad she feels she has to sacrifice her integrity to win.

    • Cara

      Thank you for your previous support. To address your points:
      1. Yes, agreed which is why we took a look at other indicators as well.
      2. Neighborhoods are small which is why we took a look at 4 nieghborhooods combined.
      3. 2010 census was the basis in 2010, also applied the Census estimation for 2015 and extrapolated in between and projected that trend forward for yearly pop estimates.
      4. Agreed there are other factors, but I strongly believe these efforts have played a role.

      • someone_else_123

        1. If you actually agreed, you wouldn’t have made a big deal out of it in the first place.
        2. The combined area is still too small to be meaningful.
        3. Good.
        4. My nephew believes unicorns are real.
        5. No comment on the politics? That’s smart.

      • Yiyby

        Wouldn’t estimating population between 2010 and 2015 be interpolation, not extrapolation? Also why do it at all if the census provides annual population estimates ( ) ? I am skeptical of all your numbers now!

        • Adam

          The non-decadal census numbers are themselves estimates, so not sure you have a reason to be more skeptical of the interpolated values–particularly if the census estimates and the interpolated values don’t differ significantly. Also, way to be pedantic re interpolation vs. extrapolation!

      • Nick

        I for one appreciate your efforts to communicate positive things that are happening in various parts of the city. It’s very easy to disparage St. Louis based solely on what you see via various media reports…so this blog post is welcome news IMO.

    • Adam

      “Short version: publishing this should count as a campaign contribution
      to Spencer’s reelection campaign by nextSTL, because it’s a badly
      analyzed piece of boosterism, and I suspect everyone involved knows

      Except that she hasn’t taken any credit for the things that she argues have reduced crime. But then I doubt you much care as you were just looking to disparage her in any case. By the way, your comment is a little thin on supporting evidence as well.

    • You must be a lot of fun at parties.

    • David Hoffman

      I’m always skeptical of people who are so critical when they do it anonymously.

  • chrisamiller

    I’m sure the policing and job programs helped, but I’d argue that the gentrification of the area is as much of a factor. Young people with substantially higher incomes are rehabbing homes and rapidly colonizing the area. That demographic shift probably explains a large proportion of the change.

    • Nick

      I think this is spot on. In reading about NYC’s record low crime numbers, there seems to be much online bickering about whether it should be attributed to Giuliani’s ‘tough on crime’ stance vs. grassroots community organizing/policing vs. gentrification etc…and as you’d expect there’s usually a political persuasion. The reality is it’s likely a combination of all of these efforts.