St. Louis City is currently ranked as the fourth most dangerous city in the nation by CQ Press, based on FBI reports of the number of crimes committed in 2011. But according to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Sam Dotson and University of Missouri-St. Louis criminology professor Richard Rosenfeld, those numbers fail to tell the whole story.
"The people who use FBI statistics to rate cities do exactly what the FBI says not to do," SLMPD Chief Dotson said. "St. Louis is unique, it's a city not within a county, and we're an urban core."
That's why Dotson and his cohort in the county, Chief Tim Fitch, are talking to the FBI and Missouri State Highway Patrol about reporting their crime data together, which Dotson says would acknowledge that crime is a regional issue.
"We already know that criminals don't recognize city/county borders," he said. "People who offend in the city offend in the county. People that live in the city travel and eat dinner in the county, and people in the county come to football games, baseball games."
Rosenfeld agreed that combined statistics would be more accurate.
"The city of St. Louis constitutes something on the order of 12 percent of the population of the metropolitan area. That puts it in a category, not by itself, but with very few other cities," he said.
When judged by the number of crimes per person in the entire metropolitan area, St. Louis falls in the middle of CQ Press rankings.
"We need to look at crime as a region," Dotson said. "We know criminals don't recognize city and county borders. The same people who commit crimes in the city commit crimes in the county."
But even looking at the city alone, crime is going down.
"Crime is 46 percent less today than it was in 2006...crime is down eight percent in the last eight months, and that is on top of the 12 percent drop from last year," Dotson said.
In response to a tweeted request to break down those numbers by type of crime, Dotson said violent crime is actually down more than property crime. Violent crime is down 20 percent from last year, while property crime is down 5 percent.
Though property crime is dropping overall, police are seeing an increase in "smash and grab" robberies, vehicle thefts and car break-ins. Of special concern is a trend of stealing weapons in automobiles parked outside sporting events, where people with concealed carry permits are not allowed to take their guns. That can be an entry point for legal weapons to become illegal.
"What keeps me up at night are my officers chasing teenagers who don't value life," Dotson said of his desire to keep illegal weapons off the streets.
Dotson and Rosenfeld both emphasized the potential of gun courts to lower crime and decrease the number of illegal guns in the city.
Dotson said gun courts give the city a system to follow that keep the people who commit crimes in jail, rather than out in the community with the ability to commit more crimes. Rosenfeld added that the system does not add more work for the courts but merely reallocates who is dealing with those types of crimes.
Other topics discussed included the potential use of drones as a law enforcement tool, young women in the city committing violence, homelessness and drug culture.
Rosenfeld reiterated the important role society plays in both the causes of and solutions to crime.
"To the degree it becomes more difficult for young men and young women in a disadvantaged community to commit crime on the street, to that degree they are more open to whatever legitimate opportunities exist," Rosenfeld said.