LEWIS PLACE — If you lived in the Lewis Place neighborhood, you’d have a quick walk to the Ranken Technical College, the Hopewell Village Apartments and houses of worship such as the West Side Missionary Baptist Church.
Something else is close – worry about personal safety. In 2019 in Lewis Place, a historic neighborhood directly across Delmar Boulevard from the Central West End neighborhood, one person was murdered for every 250 residents.
But in the Central West End neighborhood, no one was a victim of homicide last year.
According to city police data, the Central West End was one of 33 neighborhoods where there were no homicides in 2019. (Three homicides, however, are listed as “neighborhood unknown.”)
In Lewis Place, there were seven slayings, out of a 2010 population of 1,673. That gave the neighborhood a homicide rate of 4.18 per thousand, the highest among the city’s 79 neighborhoods. Eight neighborhoods had rates of more than two per thousand, while the rate in 23 neighborhoods was more than one per thousand.
It’s one more aspect of the Delmar Divide revealed in a review of neighborhood statistics for homicides and aggravated assaults by a gun in 2019.
An analysis by the NorthSider and SouthSider newspapers showed that when it comes to violence, there are effectively two cities of St. Louis, with approximately equal populations.
In one, generally made up of the Central Corridor and much of south St. Louis, a total of six people were murdered last year. In a second, consisting of the north side and southeast St. Louis, there were 188 homicides. Homicides by police officers is not included in those numbers because they are classified differently. Last year city police killed eight people.
“I look, to be certain; wherever I’m at, I look around. I make sure if I’m driving, if somebody’s standing by my car, they should have a reason to be standing by it,” said Terrance Morgan, 68, a day porter who was walking on Lewis Place Saturday when a reporter asked about the area’s homicides. Morgan also has cameras by his house.
Morgan, who lives in the Fountain Park neighborhood west of Lewis Park, is on the safety committee of his neighborhood and cleans streets near his home. He’s organizing a community yard sale for the Lewis Place and Fountain Park neighborhoods to raise money for more security cameras in the area.
Crystal Porter, 40, a nurse who lives on Lewis Place, said she felt safe on her street but not in surrounding areas.
“What do I do to keep safe? Mind my business and stay to myself,” she answered.
Linda Savio has a very different experience just a few miles south. Savio, a teacher who lives in south St. Louis, said she felt basically safe living her St. Louis Hills neighborhood.
“I hear about crime, yes, but I have not been a victim, other than my garage has been broken into,” said Savio, who was approached Saturday by a reporter as she and her son Matt, 23, walked next to Francis Park near St. Gabriel Catholic Church.
The St. Louis Hills, Wydown Skinker and Cheltenham neighborhoods had no homicides and no cases of aggravated assault with a firearm. In those two categories, those three areas were as safe as any place in the world.
People from St. Louis County, where she works as a Special School District teacher in the Lindbergh School District, have asked Savio whether she hears gunshots in her city neighborhood.
“When I say I live by Ted Drewes, I live in St. Gabriel’s parish, I live by Francis Park, the county folks know that,” said Savio, who has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years.
Crime can happen anywhere, said Savio, who is over 60. She mentioned an incident in 2000 when a woman was killed in the West County Center parking lot.
Most people would not be surprised to hear that most violent crime occurs on the north side. One would only have to watch the local evening news to see the daily reports of violence. But Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed was nonetheless shocked at how stark the difference is between city neighborhoods.
“It’s stunning,” Reed said. He said the numbers should be a sobering wake-up call.
“What this lays out so clearly also are the effects of a long history of institutionalized racism,” Reed said. That included the Team 4 plan, which removed many of the resources from the north side. (See our four-part docu-series, “Benign Neglect”, to learn about the history of the “Team Four Plan”.)
“You had a government that had taken a position to deliberately devalue an entire side of the city,” Reed noted.
Reed’s analysis is serious, and so is the extent of the problem.
Last year’s statistics show that almost no one in large parts of central and most of south St. Louis died by homicide. But in north and southeast parts of city, the murder rate was nearly twice as high. Statistics show that the overall murder rate in St. Louis is the highest in the country among big cities.
Using the city population from the 2010 census, the 2018 homicide rate for the city of St. Louis was 58.3 per 100,000 residents. In 2019, the rate was 60.8 per 100,000 residents, an increase of 4.3 percent.
“What you’re showing here is the enormous inequality in lethal violence in the city,” said Richard Rosenfeld, an emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Rosenfeld has studied neighborhood-level crime in St. Louis and is not surprised by the increasing violence.
“In some neighborhoods in St. Louis, one finds homicide rates that rival those in the most violent countries in the world,” he said. “In many other neighborhoods, conditions are far safer.”
In fact, the per-thousand rate in the second city of St. Louis is nearly twice as high as in El Salvador, which has the highest murder rate in the world.
According to the website World Population Review, the murder rate in El Salvador was .618 per thousand in 2017, slightly higher than in all of St. Louis.
Neighborhoods with high rates of homicide tend to have high poverty levels and joblessness, Rosenfeld said. Commonly, they’ve also experienced substantial losses in population.
AGGRAVATED ASSAULTS WITH A GUN
In addition to a rising homicide rate, St. Louis has also seen an increase in aggravated assaults with a gun. In 2019, there were 2,537 aggravated assaults with a gun, an 8.8 percent increase over 2018’s figure of 2,332 such incidents.
“Aggravated assault is assault that results in or threatens serious bodily injury or that is committed with a firearm,” according to Rosenfeld.
In a paper on firearms assault in St. Louis, he wrote that the rate of firearms assault in St. Louis was far higher than the average for other large U.S. cities.
To deal with high crime in the neighborhoods most seriously affected, city Police Commissioner John Hayden identified an area of especially high violent crime in north St. Louis that’s become known as “Hayden’s Rectangle.”
Hayden’s Rectangle is generally bounded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on the south, West Florissant Avenue on the north, Vandeventer Avenue on the east and a line just west of Goodfellow Boulevard on the west.
To attack the problem, Hayden worked with the city police Crime Analysis Unit, which reviewed five years of historical data.
“The review confirmed that focusing on the designated area would likely be beneficial in our effort to reduce violent crime, and his focus would be time well-spent,” said city police public information officer Michelle Woodling.
After that, the chief began sending police from the Bureau of Specialized Enforcement into the area. Police later created additional Crime Reduction Zones for the Central Patrol and the South Patrol.
Hayden and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards declined to comment.
Mayor Lyda Krewson’s spokesman, Jacob Long, sent this statement:
“Regardless of where you live, work, or visit in the city of St. Louis, your safety matters. That’s why Mayor Krewson has been intently focused on addressing violent crime on both the prevention and enforcement sides.
“For example, the city has stepped up its efforts to provide summer jobs for youth and young adults, to address problem properties and vacant buildings, and to pair community health workers with police officers who are responding to calls in challenged neighborhoods so we can better connect victims to services. It is our hope that programs like this will address socioeconomic causes of crime before they become criminal.
“But the city is also focused on addressing chronic understaffing at the police department by making it easier for the department to retain and attract dedicated officers. And Mayor Krewson is championing common-sense gun legislation at the state and local levels to try and keep guns out of the wrong hands, like juveniles and prior offenders, and to better protect witnesses of crimes. Addressing public safety in the city is going to take a sustained, all-of-the-above approach, which we remain solely committed to doing.”
Woodling addressed the issue of Crime Reduction Zones by saying, “The Chief believes that addressing the specific issues in these designated areas will again assist us in dropping the overall crime rate, including gun crime, and making the City of St. Louis a safer place to live and visit.”
Woodling said that in 2018, there were 23 fewer homicides and 113 fewer victims of aggravated assaults with firearms within the Rectangle than in 2017.
However, the number of homicides rose from 68 in 2018 to 70 in 2019, while aggravated assaults with a firearm jumped from 598 in 2018 to 675 in 2019.
Reed criticized the fact that the number of murders increased in the latest statistics for Hayden’s Rectangle.
“We’re going to have to embrace public safety and policing strategies that have proven to work,” Reed said.
The same economic development tools that were used to redevelop the south side and the central corridor must be used on the north side, Reed said.
THE CURE VIOLENCE PROGRAM
Reed also criticized the delay in implementation of the Cure Violence program and changes proposed by the city Health Department to start with just one program site instead of the funded three.
In October, the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted to appropriate $5 million on the anti-violence program, on top of $2 million that already had been allocated for it. The Health Department was named to administer the program. But according to Reed’s office, no checks have been issued yet.
Cure Violence is based on the idea that trained contractors can intervene in neighborhood conflicts before they become deadly. Proponents say the method has brought sharp reductions in shootings and murders where it’s been tried in other cities.
Even though there is money for three sites, the health department is dragging its feet, Reed said. He added that there was a possibility that the city could get additional corporate funding so as many as six sites could be operated.
“The money’s been in place since September and October,” Reed said. “This is the crisis of our day. Nothing else should matter. People’s lives are at stake on a daily basis.”
City Health Director Dr. Frederick Echols strongly disagreed.
“The health department is not in the business of politicizing lives,” Echols said.
Echols said he was meeting his goal of opening a site in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood by April. Sites will open later in the Walnut Park and Dutchtown neighborhoods, he said.
Echols insists it would be a mistake to rush, considering how complicated the issues are.
“That’s something that we can’t put together overnight,” he said.
Echols noted that the neighborhoods with the highest murder rates were below the poverty level, lacking things such as education and access to resources.
“They essentially become disenfranchised from our community,” he said.
Fixing this crisis of violence faced by families living in the most violent city neighborhoods will not be easy.
“Long-term reductions will require broader policies to ameliorate the economic and social conditions – poverty, joblessness and racial segregation that breed the hopelessness and alienation of our fellow citizens,” Rosenfeld wrote in the St. Louis Bar Journal.
“No quantity or quality of policies on firearms legislation can effectively address the social inequalities that are reflected in the unequal distribution of firearm violence in our city and nation.”
Bill Beene of The NorthSider contributed to this report.