About once every half hour, a vehicle is stolen in St. Louis. Thousands of people are inconvenienced. Innocent people are hurt, occasionally killed, and police are scrambling to reverse the trend, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says. The city expects its lowest murder total in 41 years in 2003, but car thieves continue to erode the quality of city living.
City officials worry about far-reaching consequences for an area that has hemorrhaged businesses and residents for half a century. “I think that it frustrates the victims to such an extent that they want to move,” Police Chief Joe Mokwa said. “They want some kind of resolution. It’s just such a dissatisfying experience and has such emotional consequences that it debilitates the neighborhoods.”
Three months ago, the St. Louis police had two officers assigned full-time to car thefts. Now it’s 50. Last week, Mayor Francis Slay and Mokwa promised to step up two tactics: Using special cars fitted to bait and trap thieves, and issuing window stickers to vehicle owners who agree to let police stop their cars between 1 and 5 a.m. to see who’s driving.
In 1999, a vehicle was stolen in St. Louis every 79 minutes–relatively often, compared with cities its size. The next year, there was an auto theft every 67 minutes. In 2001, every 59 minutes. Last year: 53 minutes. This year so far: 43 minutes. Over the summer months: 37 minutes. The St. Louis car theft rate is moving toward that of the largest U.S. cities. Last year, Chicago, with 2.8 million residents, had a vehicle stolen every 21 minutes. In New York, home to 8 million, there was one every 20 minutes.