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St. Louis crime is at its lowest in the past decade. Experts say the reasons are unclear

St. Louis Metropolitan Police squad cars block off Olive Street on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, during a vigil for Tyre Nichols outside of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in Downtown West. Nichols, a Black man from Memphis, Tenn., died days after being beaten by five Memphis police officers earlier this month.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Squad cars block off Olive Street in January 2023 during a vigil for Tyre Nichols outside the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in Downtown West. Nichols, a Black man from Memphis, died days after being beaten by five Memphis police officers.

Overall crime trends in St. Louis are the lowest they’ve been in a decade, according to a 2023 crime report released by the mayor’s office and the St. Louis Metro Police Department.

The report reveals a 21% reduction in homicides between 2022 and last year, a 24% reduction in shooting incidents and a 23% reduction in shooting victims, who totaled 631 in 2023 compared to 821 in 2022. Mayor Tishaura Jones credits intentional work done by the police department with the drop in crime.

“We are putting St. Louis on the right track,” Jones said in a statement. “These numbers reflect what we can do when we combine the tireless work of our officers and of our newly established Office of Violence Prevention.”

The numbers are encouraging, as St. Louis previously had one of the highest homicide rates in the country, but Jones remembered victims who lost their lives, too.

“One life lost to gun violence is one too many, and these stats mean little to those who lost their loved ones this year,” Jones added in an X post. “With targeted investments in crime prevention, intervention and enforcement, St. Louis has experienced its lowest homicide rate in a decade and the largest year over year reduction in crime in 90 years.”

The police department also reported sharp reductions in juvenile shooting incidents between 2022 and 2023. Juvenile shootings were nearly cut in half, and the number of victims from those incidents dropped by 50%, police said.

Additionally, 2023 saw a 22% reduction in overall Part 1 crimes, which include homicide, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, felony theft and auto theft, with reductions in the majority of those individual crime categories.

Data compiled through the department’s CompStat process show a 39% reduction in felony theft, a 19% decrease in auto theft, a 12% decrease in burglaries, an 11% reduction in robbery incidents and a 6% reduction in aggravated assaults.

Chief Robert Tracy, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, salutes during the National Anthem on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, at the 2023 State of the City address at St. Louis University in Midtown.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Police Chief Robert Tracy salutes during the national anthem in April 2023 during the annual State of the City address at St. Louis University in Midtown.

St. Louis Metro Police Department Chief Robert Tracy commended his team of officers for the dip in crime last year. He said this builds on the 25% drop in homicides from 2020 to 2021 and is evidence of crime prevention strategies that focus on community policing with integrity.

Examples include assigning officers to the same areas each time they report for duty. Police have also focused on crime gun intelligence and partnerships with community organizations, partner law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to help reduce crime, the department said.

They’ve also worked toward greater accountability among supervisors, Tracy said.

“Each of these strategies has been proven effective in communities large and small across the country, and we are seeing the impact of this layered approach in St. Louis as well,” Tracy said. “While these numbers provide us an opportunity to celebrate some progress, there remains much work to be done – and a great deal of progress to make as we enter another year.”

Tracy said the department is being intentional about recruitment, retention and training. Evita Caldwell, a spokesperson for the department, said there are currently only 908 commissioned officers out of an authorized strength of 1,224, though this number doesn’t include current trainees enrolled at the police academy. The department received historic raises and welcomed four new academy classes last year. Fourteen additional officers also returned to the department from other jurisdictions.

Despite the excitement over the drop in crime, Robert Boxerman, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, whose research focus is violence crime reduction and criminal justice, said leaders shouldn’t be hasty to attribute the decline to police work when there are other factors at play.

“There’s been a lot of work, there still is, and there will be I’m sure over the next five to 10 years to better understand how COVID affected things like this, because we still don’t really know,” Boxerman said Thursday. “I would just caution anyone to be too optimistic about what’s going on in terms of effort. All the work is important and good, but we should really be careful to make sure that what we’re doing is working well. Police have limited resources, the city has limited resources, and it’s really easy to pile on things that seem successful.”

Boxerman, who also does research for the national organization Council on Criminal Justice — a nonpartisan think tank that reports on crime data from various police departments in nearly 40 cities, acknowledged that crime is generally down across the country. The organization is still finalizing its 2023 report, but findings from the first half of last year suggest that St. Louis might be in line with the rest of the country, he said.

“Homicides across the sample dropped by about 10% in the first half of 2023 compared to 2022, so if that shift continued to happen through the rest of the year, the drop in St. Louis makes sense,” Boxerman said.

Boxerman said he believes one of the biggest reasons St. Louis is seeing a drop in crime is that crime was so high in the aftermath of COVID. He commended the city and police for their hard work.

“It’s possible that all those efforts didn’t do anything, and that this is part of a larger trend,” he said. “I doubt that’s the case, but I also doubt that 100% of the drop in violent crimes can be attributed to things like law enforcement efforts or city efforts. I don’t think that’s realistic.”

Lacretia Wimbley is a general assignment reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.