In 2013, the city of St. Louis recorded 120 homicides. The city’s 148th homicide of 2014 occurred Tuesday night.
That’s nearly a 25 percent year-over-year increase, and is a problem that needs to be investigated, said Richard “Rick” Rosenfeld, a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and former president of the American Society of Criminology.
Rosenfeld doesn’t buy into the “Ferguson effect” — the notion that crime increased after the August shooting death of an 18-year-old man by a police officer in Ferguson, at least not in homicide numbers.
“In the case of homicide … I don’t see a direct effect of the Ferguson effect,” Rosenfeld told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Thursday. “Homicide has been up in the city over last year since early in the summer — well before the Michael Brown shooting. For other violent crime, the rate of increase has itself increased since early August, and so some of that increase may be attributed to the Ferguson effect.”
Rosenfeld shared the data he compiled in examining the Ferguson effect.
“The increase in crime in the city that I think quite clearly is related to those events is property crime: larceny, burglary, motor vehicle theft,” he said. “They all started tracking upwards in the month of August and have gone up since.”
Those crimes, Rosenfeld said, may be more about opportunity.
“There are two interpretations. One is that criminals have become, as some people put it, emboldened. That is, perhaps angrier, perhaps assuming the police are busy monitoring protest activity and therefore more likely to commit crime. That’s one possibility,” Rosenfeld said.
“The other is that precisely because of the protest activity, police in the city have been pulled off their normal patrol routines, less able to do so-called proactive policing where they really do target crime hot-spots and that can be quite successful. But as they’ve monitored and had to deal with protest activity, normal routines have been disrupted and that removes the police from areas where crime is occurring. My sense is that latter interpretation that’s probably more accurate, but, again I would emphasize, probably not for homicide.”
If there truly was a Ferguson effect, Rosenfeld said there should be evidence of it elsewhere.
“One would expect increases in St. Louis County if Ferguson were the trigger. This seems to be specific to the city. I don’t see it in cities I usually compare St. Louis to: Kansas City, Memphis, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati. A few of those places have seen increases, but none as sizable as the homicide increase in St. Louis. That suggests it’s local conditions that are driving the rate upward.”
Rosenfeld said those conditions may be drug related. “That type of activity can flare up, and it cools down just as rapidly. If that’s one of the important determinants, I would not expect this homicide increase to persist much longer.”
Homicide increases also have been limited to a few St. Louis neighborhoods, Rosenfeld said.
“It’s not the case that the city, as a whole, is experiencing a homicide increase over last year,” he said. “The great majority of neighborhoods in the city have had no increase over the last year because they have had no homicides last year and they have had none this year. A handful of neighborhoods — really three to four — account for the bulk of the increase over the last year.”
While those neighborhoods are in north St. Louis, Rosenfeld also pointed out that nearby neighborhoods have seen declines in recent years.
“I don’t want to paint too broad a brush here over the north side of St. Louis. It really is a matter of what’s happening in specific neighborhoods.”
To alleviate problems with violent crime, Rosenfeld called for smarter policing and neighborhood assistance.
“(Make) sure the police pay attention to their relationship with the community and be as transparent as possible with respect to the activities they’re engaged in to reduce crime,” he said. “Ultimately, we have to crack it by improving conditions of life for persons who live in disadvantaged communities in St. Louis.”
Last week, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced he wants to add 160 police officers in the next two years. Slay said the additional officers were needed to combat an increase in crime that started in August, saying criminals have become “more emboldened.” The department lost officers in 2012 when its budget was cut to help cover pension costs, part of efforts to bring the city’s police force under local control.
“In police districts across the city, the number of officers typically attached to the district is down,” Rosenfeld said. “First of all, just the total number is down. Then when you count officers on sick leave, officers injured, the force in particular areas has really been substantially depleted and needs to be replenished quickly.”
“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.