The Post-Dispatch has tried for years to obtain enough data from St. Louis County’s disparate police departments to post an interactive online map of crime data, similar to the newspaper’s map for St. Louis city. Local departments have refused, stalled or outright failed to provide the data they are required by law to collect.
In the absence of cooperation, the Post-Dispatch has prepared a map using monthly crime totals from the Missouri Highway Patrol’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, along with data from the county police department’s Bureau of Research and Analysis. As Post-Dispatch data crunchers Janelle O’Dea and Josh Renaud reported last week, the information is still incomplete because many jurisdictions simply can’t, or won’t, share their data.
That has to change. Those jurisdictions are denying their own residents the ability to see where crime is occurring and make informed judgments about whether police and elected officials are doing their jobs. Too many suburban officials are quick to ridicule St. Louis city’s crime rate while boasting that suburban life is safer, or to argue that consolidation with St. Louis is out of the question. Yet they won’t provide detailed crime data to show what’s happening on their own streets.
St. Louis County is fragmented into 88 municipalities, many of which more closely resemble neighborhood associations. They proudly insist on going it alone rather than consolidate for the sake of efficiency. Along with that choice comes the legal responsibility to collect and report the crime data required by the state. Some don’t. Others choose not to share their incident data with the county or won’t permit the county to publish the data.
That leaves Pagedale and Des Peres residents to guess why their respective total reported crime is up more than 40 percent from the same six-month period last year. Too bad if you want to know whether violent crime has occurred just down the block. Your government apparently doesn’t want you to know.
Given all the troubles Ferguson has faced in recent years, wouldn’t it behoove the police department to be as transparent as possible about their municipality’s six-month, 20.56 percent increase in crime? What are they hiding? Twenty other jurisdictions, including Ballwin, Chesterfield and Clayton, initially balked but agreed last week to share their data.
Contrast the lack of crime information with other details that regional jurisdictions do provide. This newspaper’s online database section contains interactive directories where you can look up any local government employee’s salary, including your children’s teachers. Another database compares schools by test scores or student-teacher ratios.
Our philosophy is that the more information citizens can access, the more likely they’ll make smart choices in the voting booth. Democracy flourishes under sunlight and withers in darkness. And no one benefits from being kept in the dark about crime.