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St. Louis reports crime drop in early weeks of stay-at-home order

St. Louis reports crime drop in early weeks of stay-at-home order

Officer on crime scene in St. Louis

An officer stands with a police dog at the intersection of Chouteau Avenue and Boyle Avenue as other officers case the block in this April 5, 2009, file photo. Photo by Elie Gardner.

UPDATED with more details on three killings from Friday.

ST. LOUIS — Living in a pandemic and under a stay-at-home order, St. Louis has seen a drop in crime in the last 30 days.

Burglaries are down 28%. Aggravated assaults with a firearm are down 12%. Property crimes are down 20%. Overall, the St. Louis Police Department said, total crime in the last month was down 21%, compared with the same 30 days a year ago.

Down but not gone; the violence continues.

Tess Trice has watched crime unfold outside her day care center in north city for years, the low point coming last November when a man was shot dead across the street and a bullet lodged in the ceiling of the day care.

Trice had high hopes that the coronavirus pandemic and the mayor’s order March 23 for residents to stay home would pause the crime wave.

“I thought people would be in their house and be safe,” Trice said. “Just people in survival mode for their family.”

But Trice says that didn’t happen. Prostitution along Arlington and Ridge avenues outside her Little Explorers day care dipped slightly in the days after the stay-at-home order, but it’s picked up again, she said, along with the open-air drug sales.

“And the homicides,” she said. “They’re still killing. People are not changing. Even with this pandemic.”

The crime blotters in recent days support Trice. St. Louis had three fatal shootings in less than 24 hours this week, including a teenage girl gunned down in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood. It happened again on Friday. Three people slain within eight hours. Since the stay-at-home order began, homicide detectives have been dispatched to at least a dozen fatal shooting scenes.

Mayor Lyda Krewson noted Wednesday that “people are under a lot of stress,” and she didn’t know if she was surprised that the violence continues.

“For a little while there, it looked like violent crime might be off a bit, but as you’ve seen in just the last few days, that is not the case,” Krewson said in a Facebook live video. “There are still way too many shootings ... way too many homicides.”

On the day Krewson spoke, the city had its 40th homicide for the year, three more than the same period last year. On Friday, three more people were slain in St. Louis. In an eight-hour stretch, they were gunned down in vehicles; a fourth victim was critically hurt.

The St. Louis Police Department on Friday morning said crimes against persons -- murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- were down 26% in the last 30 days. There were 209 such incidents in the last month, compared to 286 incidents in the same 30-day period of 2019.

The St. Louis Police Department said it hadn’t compiled a report to look at the impact the stay-at-home order has had on crime.

And crime statistics can vary. For example, statistics for the period April 1 through April 15 (compared with the same period last year) show robberies and daytime residential burglaries down, and aggravated assaults and business burglaries up. But the Police Department cautioned that the April report could be misleading because it could includes some crimes that happened in early March, before residents were told to stay home.

On Friday, St. Louis police Officer Michelle Woodling said many people want to know if there has been a change in crime during the coronavirus pandemic. And because St. Louis is nearing 30 days into the stay-at-home order, Woodling said, comparing the last 30 days with the same period last year would be a far better comparison. She said crime is down, from the property crimes (a 20% drop) to crimes against persons (a nearly 27% drop). The 114 aggravated assaults with a firearm in the last month, for example, compares with 130 during the same period in 2019, Woodling said.

“These numbers correspond very closely with reports from other cities,” such as New York and Chicago, said criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

‘Victims have disappeared’

Rosenfeld is studying the pandemic’s impact on crime. He is collecting data for an analysis of crime in St. Louis and large cities in America. He expects to finish the study in the fall, months after stay-at-home orders end and the nation reopens.

Rosenfeld said he expects to see a decline in most street crimes, and the early data in most cities bear that out. In St. Louis, for example, there were 25 robberies in the first half of April, when the city’s stay-at-home order was in effect. Last year, the first half of April saw 40 robberies in the city.

“Quintessential street crimes have to have victims out and available, and as streets emptied, potential victims have disappeared,” Rosenfeld said.

St. Louis police reported 114 aggravated assaults with a firearm in the last 30 days — about three or four a day. The department didn’t provide a breakdown of whether those happened indoors or outside, and whether they involved a domestic attack. Researchers expect domestic violence to increase during the stay-home order.

So far, St. Louis seems to be seeing the same drops in crime as large cities in the United States and other countries. “Italy, which really got hard hit by the virus and had stringent stay-at-home orders in place, saw an absolutely dramatic drop in street crime,” Rosenfeld said. “We’re showing drops in street crime in the states that aren’t as dramatic but are sizable.”

He said commercial burglaries were up, while residential burglaries were down. That makes sense, Rosenfeld said, as burglars steer clear of occupied homes and  know that many businesses are closed.

Homicide numbers week to week are too low to draw any conclusions, he said.

The increasing number of unemployed people shouldn’t necessarily translate to more crime, Rosenfeld argues. He points to the Great Depression, when about a quarter of Americans were jobless and crime didn’t increase.

St. Louis and St. Louis County have had stay-at-home orders since March 23. On Thursday, officials extended those orders indefinitely, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Mike Parson’s statewide stay-at-home order began April 6 and is set to end May 3.

With residents being told to stay home, there are 40% to 50% fewer cars on the roads, state officials estimate. The Missouri Highway Patrol’s Troop C in St. Louis and surrounding counties has seen a big drop in traffic crashes, the patrol’s Cpl. Juston Wheetley said.

Fatal traffic crashes statewide, however, are on pace with last year’s totals. So far this year, 192 people have died in vehicle crashes in Missouri, compared with 195 in the same period last year, said Capt. John Hotz, a spokesman in the patrol’s headquarters in Jefferson City.

The wide-open roads have unleashed speeders. At least once a day, Hotz said, a trooper clocks a motorist somewhere in Missouri traveling at more than 100 mph. This week in Sedalia, a driver was caught going 143 mph, Hotz said.

Suburban crime

Elsewhere in the region, departments are seeing mixed results. In St. Louis County, between March 1 and April 11, crime has dropped slightly, compared with the same period last year. “We’re about even for violent crime, but we are seeing a reduction in burglaries and larcenies,” said Officer Tracy Panus of the St. Louis County Police Department.

Drug arrests are down in St. Louis County. Panus said there have been 549 drug-related incidents this year, compared with 798 last year. Between March 1 and April 11, there were 147 drug incidents, compared with 335 the previous year. Panus said many drug arrests are made during traffic stops, and officers are making fewer of those because they are trying to limit exposure to people who might have the coronavirus.

“We’ve reduced some types of self-initiated activity,” such as traffic stops, Panus said. “So a reduction in these (drug arrest) numbers is not surprising.”

The St. Charles County Police Department has investigated four more burglaries and nine more aggravated assault cases in the last month than in the same period in 2019, and fewer drug violations, said spokeswoman Val Joyner. “Overall, the department has not seen a substantial increase in crimes since the start of the stay-at-home order,” Joyner said. “It appears that county residents are staying home and doing their best to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

In Jefferson County, sheriff’s spokesman Grant Bissell said assaults were up in March, compared with the same month in the last two years; assaults appear to be way down for April. Auto thefts are up for the year, but robberies are down.

“Our stance is that it’s still a little too early to know if there’s actually been a spike in crimes,” Bissell said. “As with other departments, we’ll have monthly spikes throughout typical, non-pandemic years. The numbers will be interesting as we move through this stay-at-home order. But it’ll be tough to say whether they’re related to the pandemic.”

Kim Bell covers breaking news for and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter here.

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