Until 2003, 1962 was the last time that St. Louis registered fewer than 100 murders in a calendar year. As of Wednesday evening, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there had been 69 killings in the city, matching 1962. “The way homicides have dropped…in recent years is nothing short of incredible,” said criminologist Scott Decker of the University of Missouri at St. Louis. “You almost can’t find an adjective to describe it.”
A huge population loss put a damper on the numbers. On a per capita basis, the 2003 total is more than twice 1962’s. The 1960 census put the St. Louis population at 750,026, compared with a 2001 estimate of 339,211. Still, the 2003 number was a 39 percent decrease from the 2002 total of 113 – and a dramatic 74 percent decrease from 1993, when homicides hit 267. Elsewhere in the region, St. Louis County had 30 homicides (down from 40 in 2002) and St. Clair County, Ill. had 31 (down from 35).
Usually, police don’t take credit for a homicide decline, but St. Louis Chief Joe Mokwa believes a concerted effort by his officers, federal and state prosecutors, and others has been successful.
Decker said homicide and overall crime dropped across the country in the 1990s but had leveled off since 2000, except in St. Louis. “We continue to decline, and that’s very significant.” He said the focus on creating more stable neighborhoods by cracking down on the criminal element has paid off. “Of course, the real challenge is to sustain this decline over the long term.”