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City could remain U.S. leader in homicides

CITY HALL – St. Louis has a good chance of keeping its 2019 position as the big-city murder capital.

St. Louis police reported 194 homicides last year, up from 186 in 2018. That’s about 63 per hundred thousand. The Statistica.com website reported in September that St. Louis was first among cities with a population of more than 250,000 in 2018, with 60.94 per hundred thousand.

Cities that followed St. Louis in 2018 were Baltimore, second, with 51.04 per hundred thousand; Detroit, third, with 38.88; New Orleans, fourth, with 37.08; and Memphis, fifth, with 28.52.

The city’s high murder rate dominated conversation in St. Louis last year, and did so again on New Year’s Day, when five people were killed in a single day. 

Though the rate is serious, it’s not much higher than in previous years. City police reported 188 killed in 2016, 205 in 2017 and 186 in 2018.

Still, it was serious enough for Mayor Lyda Krewson to make special note of the deadly violence in a news conference in her office Friday that largely focused on upbeat signs for 2020.

“I would be remiss today if I didn’t acknowledge the other reasons that St. Louis has been in the headlines in 2019, and that is the senseless violence that we’ve had in our city, driven by drugs and driven by guns, driven by our state’s lenient gun laws,” Krewson said.

“This violence continues to cut lives short and tear families apart,” she said. “As mayor, as someone who’s personally felt that pain, I sympathize with those families and every person that we’ve lost this year.”

Krewson’s first husband was shot and killed in their car in the Central West End in 1995.

Among the steps Krewson said she had taken was creating the Office of Youth, Children and Families to better address and support the needs of children and families. She also said the city would work with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to deal with violent crime.

A major problem she mentioned is a shortfall of about 130 police officers. She said she’d like to see a state law passed to end the city’s residency rule for police and other city employees. She also would like to see better pay for officers.

Krewson also hopes the Cure Violence program being rolled out this year will reduce the number of homicides. The program is based on the idea that trained people can intervene in conflicts in neighborhoods before those conflicts become deadly. Proponents say the method has brought sharp reductions in shootings and murders where it’s been tried in other cities.

Krewson said she was not considering any shakeups in the Public Safety Department.

“Considering the circumstances, I think our police department is doing a great job,” she said. 

She meets with police frequently, she said.

Final results by neighborhood were unavailable. However, the homicide numbers by patrol are North Patrol, 119; Central Patrol, 48; and South Patrol, 26. It wasn’t determined where one homicide had taken place.

Adam Boessen, an assistant professor in the department of criminology  and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, noted that the numbers of nonviolent crimes such as larcenies and vehicle theft, as well as violent crimes such as aggravated assaults and robberies, were relatively low.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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