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Crime declines in St. Louis, police chief credits targeting specific neighborhoods

St. Louis police commanders listen as Chief John Hayden presents the 2018 crime statistics at a town hall on December 19, 2018.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis police commanders listen as Chief John Hayden presents the 2018 crime statistics at a town hall on Wednesday. Hayden says a plan to target the city's most-violent neighborhoods is working.

St. Louis’ police chief says his strategy of focusing more resources on violent areas of the city has led to a nearly six-percent drop in crime compared to this time last year.

Chief John Hayden presented the 2018 crime statistics Wednesday night at a town hall at Forest Park Community College. Every category except rape and vehicle thefts has dropped compared to November of 2017.

Citywide, homicides have dropped 13 percent, from 191 to 166. But rape increased seven percent, from 260 to 279, and vehicles thefts were up slightly. Vehicle thefts do not include carjackings, which are being counted as a separate category for the first time in 2018. So far, there have been more than 300 carjackings in the city this year.

The ‘Hayden Rectangle’

When he became chief at the beginning of 2018, Hayden announced a plan to send more police and social services to an area bounded by Goodfellow, West Florissant, Martin Luther King and Vandeventer. The rectangle contains some of the highest-crime neighborhoods, including Wells-Goodfellow, Walnut Park East and West, and Penrose.

The increased police attention included everything from extra traffic patrols to agents from several federal law-enforcement agencies. Better Family Life opened centers where teenagers in the neighborhoods who were feuding could come and work out their disputes without guns. The Urban League invested in job training.

Hayden said the statistics show the strategy worked. Violent crime in the zone dropped 20 percent.

“There’s 23 less homicides that didn’t happen this year,” he said. “There’s 70 less robberies that didn’t happen. And then there are 128 less assaults with guns.”

Crime statistics show the Walnut Park neighborhoods had seen 10 fewer homicides at the end of this November compared to last year. Kingsway West, which borders St. Louis County, had five fewer killings.

Hayden said adding license-plate readers and high-quality cameras inside the rectangle played a role in getting the numbers down, as well. The cameras meant officers had better information available to them.

“When we talk about how many arrests were able to be affected due to the fact that we were able to see the car that had just been carjacked, we were able to see the car that had just been stolen, we were able to see the people that had just committed the shooting, those resulted in 228 arrests, 128 stolen vehicles recovered and 38 firearms recovered,” he said.

Hayden says he plans to add two more rectangles next year – one covering a large portion of the Downtown and Downtown West neighborhoods, and another in south St. Louis. He said the specialized units like SWAT and traffic enforcement will rotate through the different rectangles as crime spikes, but there are enough officers in those units to handle multiple increases at a time.

Department accountability

Hayden’s town hall was his first public presentation since four officers were charged with excessive force and other federal crimes for assaulting an undercover officer during a protest. The four officers, who have pleaded not guilty, had been suspended without pay.

“That is not what we want to represent,” Hayden said. “That is not consistent with the values that we hold, that is inconsistent with public safety, and it certainly violates public trust. I want you all to know that we recognize that.”

Hayden said it was the department that reached out to the FBI to investigate the incident, and officials cooperated at every stage. He encouraged members of the audience to contact the FBI or the department’s internal affairs bureau if they had anything else to add.

Mary Chandler, a resident of the Ville neighborhood, told Hayden that he needed to start listening when the community tells him about bad officers.

“As a citizen, the police send me a very firm message that my word is only good enough to put my neighbor in jail. It’s not good enough when it comes up against the word of an officer,” she said.

Hayden did not specifically address Chandler’s point, but said misconduct won’t be tolerated in the department.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.