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Report Shows St. Louis Police Led The Nation In Killings

The report from ArchCity Defenders highlights data and personal stories from family members on police killings in the St. Louis area.
ArchCity Defenders
The report from ArchCity Defenders highlights data and personal stories from family members on police killings in the St. Louis area.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department was responsible for more killings per capita than any other of the 100 largest police departments in the nation.

That’s one of the data points in a new study, “Death by the State: Police Killings and Jail Deaths in St. Louis,” from the criminal justice reform advocacy group ArchCity Defenders.

The report, citing data from mappingpoliceviolence.org, indicates St. Louis city police killed about 18 people per 1 million residents, exceeding cities like Chicago (4), Los Angeles (4.7) and Denver (7.4).

ArchCity Defenders also used public records and media reports to identify 132 people in the city of St. Louis, and St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties who died at the hands of police from 2009 to 2019. An additional 47 people died while in custody at jails in the area.

These numbers may be low, as not all acts of police violence are reported, said Ashley Jackson, a researcher at Washington University who studies police violence, especially against people of color.

“We need a federally mandated database on every time the police harms an individual,” Jackson said during a virtual panel discussion Monday. “And it needs to be externally housed. Currently, I don’t think we can trust that all police departments are going to report every time they hurt an individual. So, it needs to be some external entity. That’s what we need.”

The statistics also show the widespread impact on communities in the region, according to the families of those who died.

Gina Torres’ son Isaiah Hammet was shot and killed by St. Louis police and SWAT team members during a no-knock warrant search in 2017.

Cases like that further erode relationships between police and citizens.

“My children, how are they supposed to be? Or think that if something happened, to call the police? They aren’t going to call the police because the police killed their brother,” Torres said.

Advocates for change say the police secrecy and protection within ranks makes transparency nearly impossible and adds to the problems of police brutality.

“We really need to get these investigations of these shootings out of the hands of the police departments, because we can’t have the police investigating themselves,” said John Chasnoff, a member of the steering committee of the Coalition Against Police Crimes & Repression.

Chasnoff said all police shootings should be turned over to an independent prosecutor or agency, such as the Circuit Attorney’s Office.

ArchCity Defenders wants the information to lead to more public awareness of deaths at the hands of police and to accountability in the criminal justice system.

“This report represents our preliminary findings,“ said Emanuel Powell, an attorney with ArchCity Defenders. “As an organization that is committed to addressing state violence, the criminalization of poverty and committed to racial justice, we see it as our duty to support the families however we can.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.