Annually, the FBI Uniform Crime Report collects, summarizes and publishes crime statistics from cities across the United States. Its 2011 data indicate a decrease in violent crime throughout the country. Even with a worldwide decline, St. Louis is still at the top of the list. Based on this data, U.S. News and World Report ranked St. Louis as the “most dangerous city in America.” 24/7 Wall St. says we are the third most dangerous city, right behind Detroit and Flint, Michigan.
Those of us who live in the city do not need the FBI or the Wall Street Journal to tell us what we already know. We hear the gunshots. We watch the news and read the papers. And we attend the funerals.
Despite Mayor Slay stating crime is on the decline, new Police Chief Sam Dotson told us what we already knew. In a meeting with the Board of Police Commissioners, Chief Dotson stated the crime rate is up about 23 percent citywide from last year. Seven of eight crime categories were up in January over 2012, and four categories were up by double digits. Our city has a crime problem, and it is not getting better.
In reading the various crime reports, what is most surprising is the cities that are not on the list. No city in New York is on the “most dangerous city” list: not Harlem, not the Bronx, nor my hometown, Brooklyn. Washington, D.C. is not on the list. The city of Los Angeles is not on the list.
Although law enforcement agencies throughout the nation reported a decrease in the percentage of violent crime, these cities have made fighting crime a top priority and instituted innovative, sustainable crime-prevention strategies to keep their streets safe. Even though they have an increase in population and a decreasing police force, Los Angeles is going into its 10th straight year of crime decline. New York has decreased crime and its prison population. Minneapolis, which used to be known as “Murderapolis,” reduced crime by 40 percent in six years.
Reducing violent crime can be done. Cities larger and smaller than St. Louis have done it. But St. Louis keeps doing the same thing and expecting different results. Thus far our only strategy is reactive “hot spot” policing; lock ‘em up and throw away the key; or, my new favorite, gun court. None of these strategies prevents crime. Crime prevention is a complex problem that requires a comprehensive solution.
In a recent speech on gun violence, President Obama congratulated Minneapolis for its thriving crime reduction efforts. Minneapolis treats youth violence as a public health epidemic such as tuberculosis or cigarette smoking. Boston uses the same approach, and it too is not on the “most dangerous city” list. Minneapolis does not see youth violence as inevitable but treatable. In four years the city’s crime rate plummeted to a new-25 year low. The city published its successful plan in “Blueprint for Action: Preventing Youth Violence in Minneapolis.
My grandmother use to say, “If you always do what you always did, then you’ll always get what you always got.” We need change. We need a plan. We need a Blueprint for Action. We need a new vision, and we need it NOW.
A former prosecutor and state representative, Hope Whitehead is currently practicing law at Whitehead & Associates, LLC.