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How we did it: Tracking child homicides in St. Louis

How we did it: Tracking child homicides in St. Louis

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The facts are stark and simple: Between 1990 and September 2019, more than 580 children in St. Louis were homicide victims. Those figures reveal a child homicide rate far outpacing that of other cities.

At the end of August, the Post-Dispatch requested data on homicide victims from St. Louis Police, including the date of death, the location of the homicide, the victim age, sex and race. The department provided the data about a month later, including more than 5,100 homicides since 1990. We pulled out homicides of children 17 and under and mapped them.

To compare St. Louis with other cities, we leaned on homicide victim data collected by the FBI and assembled by a criminal justice academic at the University of Pennsylvania.

But we wanted to calculate per-capita rates to compare areas with different-sized populations. The U.S. Census Bureau only began publishing annual population estimates in 2005 and didn't include actual numbers by age group until 2017. 

A nonprofit by the name of Kids Count, however, has collected child population data for decades and queried its databases for the Post-Dispatch. Those figures put the local numbers into greater context.

St. Louis has long been criticized for its homicide rates. And experts have long said that such comparisons can be misleading: Other cities have drawn their boundaries to include outlying residential areas, which can increase population figures without inflating homicide counts.

Multiple criminologists, including University of Missouri-St. Louis professor Rick Rosenfeld, helped the Post-Dispatch pick geographically and demographically comparable cities. They suggested Indianapolis, Memphis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Kansas City, some of which have boundaries similar to that of St. Louis. We added Baltimore because it, too, struggles with similar poverty and crime problems.

The result: St. Louis’ child homicide rate is roughly quadruple that of Indianapolis and Kansas City, triple Milwaukee and double that of Baltimore.

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