TRACKING THE DATA: Is local control of St. Louis Police the reason for St. Louis crime?

News 4 is working to answer the question, “Is local control of St. Louis Police the reason for St. Louis crime?
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 10:30 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - News 4 is working to answer the question, “Is local control of St. Louis Police the reason for St. Louis crime? It’s a the belief of some Jefferson City lawmakers, fueling their argument the state needs to grab the reins again.

79-year-old Lew Moye still keeps an eye on crime in North City.

“I’m totally upset,” Moye said.

The local activist said Jefferson City should address poverty to fix crime in St. Louis, instead of seeking police control.

“This neighborhood would not have any say so in the crime in our communities,” Moye explained. “Or, how the police function.”

Moye said he’s seen a lot in his lifetime, including state controlled policing not working in St. Louis, before the city took control in 2013.

In February this year, Don Isom, the former city police chief under state control, told the state legislature there was a lot of political influence from the police board at the time, including promotions and transfers.

“To suggest five members who are over the police department won’t be political and won’t have some influence as opposed to dealing with one person, I don’t think you could actually suggest that,” Isom shared in his testimony. “It could be more political.”

State Republicans stand by their opinion that local control is to blame for crime. This includes State Rep. Justin Sparks out of Wildwood, who said state control will ensure the city’s administration can no longer use “Defund the Police,” as a political weapon.

News 4 asked how the city has used “Defund the Police,” in that way, citing the city’s 4.5% or $9 million increase in police funding for FY 2023.

“That’s just now been agreed to,” Rep. Sparks replied. “I applaud that. It’s too little too late. It appears now that the state legislature got involved, the decisions to properly fund the police have been forthcoming.”

The representative failed to reference specific examples of where Mayor Tishaura Jones and her office defunded STLMPD.

But is local control the cause of violent crime trends and the City of St. Louis’ murder rate?

“I found little evidence that the increase of homicide in St. Louis could be attributed to local control,” Criminologist and Professor at UMSL Dr. Richard Rosenfeld said.

Dr. Rosenfeld has more than 40 years of experience as a criminologist. He collected homicide date from 1985 to 2022 for both the City of St. Louis and Kansas City, the only state-controlled police department in the state.

“I found homicide rates in KC also spiked in 2013 and beyond at a level at just about the increase we saw in St. louis and cities across the country,” Dr. Rosenfeld said.

Dr. Rosenfeld’s research shows from 2013 until 2022, the murders in St. Louis increased 8.2% each year.

In that same time period, Kansas City’s increased 6.7%.Rosenfeld said his data shows local control can’t be the cause, if not a similar rise would not have happened in Kansas City and other metropolitans.

The City of St. Louis is touting a 25% drop in its homicide rate from 2020 to 2021. Dr. Rosenfeld said that data supports positive trends in the city’s brief time leading its police department. If local control isn’t to blame, then what is? Rosenfeld points to Michael Brown’s death in 2014, and George Floyd’s murder in 2020 of intense division between police and the communities they serve.

“When police and the community draw further apart from one another- people are less likely to notify police with a problem, less like to cooperate when police investigate a crime, and that can contribute to crime increases,” Rosenfeld said.

That’s the biggest concern for Moye, and those living in North City who want their vote to still have value.

I’m going to be asking my neighbors to do what they can, from writing letters to going to Jefferson City,” Moye explained. “Go on up there and make our voices be heard, that’s what we have to do.”