Letter to the Editor: The facts behind St. Louis’ crime rate
The publications that you mention in your Dec. 2 article (“St. Louis ranked again as most dangerous city”) and editorial (“St. Louis: Most dangerous, but still our city”) did indeed report St. Louis to have the nation’s highest crime rate, and they also failed to explain this rather odd finding.
So just how did St. Louis get to be so dangerous?
The short answer is that it didn’t. Like many American cities, St. Louis has inner city neighborhoods with high crime rates surrounded by areas with lower crime rates, making up a metropolitan area. The locations of the boundaries of city proper within these metro areas vary widely, reflecting accidents of local history. St. Louis just happens to have one of the country’s smallest city areas compared to its whole metro area. So the crime “rankings” aren’t really rankings at all; they are just the meaningless numbers that you get when you compare, for instance, crime in St. Louis’s inner city to crime in Memphis’s inner city and suburbs. Your article discussed crime around the campus, but actually the campus area was mostly excluded in these rankings because it is in University City and Clayton.
Why do publications use crime rates for cities instead of metro areas? They are easier to calculate and understand. Their aim is to sell copies, not to shed light on social phenomena. Metro areas may be messy to analyze; look at Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. But in most cases the standard metropolitan statistical areas are recognizable cities, and can be easily analyzed by anyone with a spreadsheet. Wikipedia and other sources provide the latest FBI crime stats along with city and metro populations. Dump the data into a spreadsheet and you will see the following:
With a population of 355,208, the city of St. Louis is no. 52 in the country. But the metro area population of 2,828,990 ranks no. 18. Do the math: St. Louis city only includes 13 percent of the metro population, located in the relatively high-crime inner core. Comparably sized cities include New Orleans, where the city includes 28 percent of the metro area; Raleigh, where the figure is 36 percent; Tulsa at 41 percent and Wichita with 60 percent. No wonder “St. Louis” city ranks high in crime.
Is the St. Louis metro area also the most crime-ridden in America? No, that would be Detroit. Maybe we are no. 2? No, that’s Pine Bluff, Arkansas. No. 3 maybe? Nope, Memphis. Where does St. Louis metro rank? In the 2010 metro crime rankings St. Louis is listed as “N/A,” but in 2009 it was no. 103.
That’s right, not even in the top 100.
Glenn Davis Stone
Prof. of Anthropology and Environmental Studies