ST. LOUIS • Police chiefs cited innovative strategies, increased community involvement and national trends Wednesday as reasons why tallies of reported crimes in 2011 were at the lowest levels in decades in both St. Louis and St. Louis County.
St. Louis police saw a 5.8 percent decrease compared with 2010 in major crimes, including homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies/thefts, vehicle thefts and arsons; St. Louis County reported a 2.4 percent decrease.
For the city, last year's decline brought the total number of those crimes to their lowest since 1967, although the population has fallen by more than half since then. In the county, it was the lowest since 1971, athough the population has grown by about five percent in the interim.
But FBI crime-report guideline changes and other adjustments through the years make it difficult to compare year-to-year totals.
For example, in 2009, St. Louis police began to be more consistent with the FBI's crime-counting rule when it came to larcenies — the city's largest crime category. The rule says car break-ins should be reported as one crime even if multiple vehicles are involved on the same block or parking lot at the same time.
City police officials also warned that 2012's rape totals were likely to increase dramatically because the Justice Department expanded its definition to include other types of sexual assaults that were not previously included.
With those caveats, city Police Chief Dan Isom and county Chief Tim Fitch both said the numbers were encouraging.
Vehicle thefts in the city totaled 3,369 last year — their lowest since 1952.
City police Capt. Ed Kuntz told the Board of Police Commissioners on Wednesday that an increase in the number of patrol cars equipped with tire spikes, increased use of helicopters to track stolen vehicles and the donation of computerized cameras that can rapidly check license plates have led to more arrests of repeat offenders.
"This almost seems impossible to believe ... ," said Commissioner Thomas Irwin.
Isom said also credited increased community involvement such as the Neighborhood Ownership Model program, in which residents work with police to solve crimes.
"We've also done a better job focusing on repeat offenders … which can have a short-term decrease in activity," he said.
In the county, Fitch said, citizen involvement is why Jennings saw a 13 percent decrease in crime. Calls for police service were up, he explained, since the county took over the municipality's police department full-time in March.
"That's easily attributed to citizens who say, 'We call police when things are going on whereas before we didn't because there was no action taken,'" Fitch said. "They've become very comfortable with getting us involved in what's going on in the community and that's directly related to the crime drop because the community got involved in crime issues."
Fitch said his department's use of hot-spot policing strategies, which help officers deploy in areas identified by crime patterns, also helped.
He said the local results were consistent with falling crime nationwide.
Nobody knows if the trend will hold. City police already responded to eight homicides in 2012, quadruple the number at this point in January 2011.