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Is the City/County divide to blame for St. Louis "Most Dangerous" title?

UMSL criminologists Janet Lauritsen and Richard Rosenfeld
photo courtesy of UMSL News
UMSL criminologists Janet Lauritsen and Richard Rosenfeld

St. Louis is back on top, but it's not a list city residents are proud to headline.  For the first time since 2004, St. Louis again topsCQ Press' crime ranking list, earning our fair city the unwanted title of "Most Dangerous."  CQ Press uses publicly available FBI crime data to make its list, but how crime data gets reported and collected across the nation, is a complicated issue.  We tried to break it down a bit on today's St. Louis on the Air.

University of Missouri-St. Louis Criminologists Janet Lauritsen and Richard Rosenfeld joined St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom on today's show.  Lauritsen and Rosenfeld co-authored "The Most Dangerous Crime Rankings," a highly critical review of CQ's rankings, a list which the two call "methodological questionable."

Among other things, Lauritsen and Rosefeld worry that St. Louis data is skewed from the outset, because of the way the St Louis region is set up.   Rosenfeld told us:

"St. Louis is hurt in these kinds of rankings for reasons that have nothing to do with crime, but have everything to do with the configuration of our small central city of St. Louis in a large metropolitan area. St. Louis City encompasses 62 square miles and its population of roughly 350,000 is something like 12, 13% of the metro population.  So if you compare St. Louis to a city like Memphis, Memphis comes out much better in these city rankings because Memphis encompasses over half of its metropolitan areas in the city."

Rosenfeld continued with the comparison saying it would be like if  St. Louis included Brentwood, Richmond Heights, Clayton, and University City in its city limits, and therefore,  in its crime data.  "In fact," he added, " If you rank metro areas, St Louis comes in somewhere near number 150."

But a few of you said this line of reasoning sounded more like an excuse. Shelby from St. Louis City called with this comment:

"I hear a lot of justifications for why there is the ranking and excuses being made about the ranking, but the truth is is that there is a lot of crime.  I just woke up the other morning with my front yard as a homicide scene and you know, I feel that there is a lot of crime and that it's being swept under the rug with excuses and not a lot said about what is going to be done about the crime.”

Former St Louis Cop M.W. Guzy takes a similar tone in a piece special to today's St. Louis Beacon, saying,

"... the city -- like it or not -- is a distinct geo-political entity with its own police force and its own circuit court. We could improve its crime rate by including the suburbs in the analysis; we could also improve it by annexing, say, Ames, Iowa. But neither remedy would do much to accurately reflect the reality of living right here, right now."

Lauritsen, Rosenfeld and Isom agreed that crime prevention is a priority for the city moving forward, but cautioned that crime data can be used to make unfair comparisons between cities.  In Chief Isom's words, "We don’t want to sugar coat or white wash what’s going on in our community.  But there is another side to it.  There are many areas in St Louis that are very safe."

What do you think?  Do you feel safe in St. Louis?  Continue the discussion here online or email us at talk@stlpublicradio.org.

Also--If you missed it, check out Bill Raack'sinterview from last weekwith the new Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in St. Louis, Dennis Baker.