City crime down, except for the killings
St. Louis — The city has seen nine people slain in 10 days. Assaults on police officers have been on the rise, too, officials say, thanks to a crop of young criminals willing to shoot their way out of capture.
But in the boardroom at the police department this week, the crime charts in Chief Joe Mokwa's PowerPoint presentation were all pointing down.
"I'm happy to report that crime is continuing its double-digit decreases," he told Mayor Francis Slay and the other four police commissioners. According to his figures, the city hasn't tallied so few reports of crimes since Richard Nixon was president.
A surge in homicides captures the public's attention and seems to suggest that trouble is brewing. Just five years ago, the city went a whole summer month without a killing. Now homicide detectives are being dispatched daily. No arrests have been made in any of the cases, which, police said, seem unconnected.
The violent surge happened at the same time as a spate of killings in Chicago, Mokwa told the police board, but there were no clear common factors.
"Crimes like this are essentially random occurrences," said Mike Maltz, emeritus criminal justice professor at University of Illinois at Chicago. "Sometimes they just mount up at one time for no particular reason."
Many of the recent St. Louis victims were sitting in cars. Three people were fatally shot sitting in a car on the 4200 block of San Francisco Avenue on April 19. Two days later, two were gunned down in a Hummer on the 1000 block of South Vandeventer Avenue.
Multiple-victim shootings could be a sign that gangs are to blame, said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist with the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who tracks city crime trends.
But police are vexed as to what led to the April 17 shooting death of a man in the garage of the Ventana Luxury Lofts, 1635 Washington Avenue. Bryan Stacy, 54, of Kansas City, was president of the Kansas City operations for Blue Urban, a St. Louis-based developer.
Stacy's work brought him often to St. Louis, said Capt. James Gieseke, homicide commander. The night of his death, he was helping an acquaintance move into her new home at the Ventana.
Stacy was found about 5:30 p.m. in the restricted-access basement garage with a gunshot wound to the head. Nothing was taken from him, and police aren't speculating on a motive.
Were these anomalies? According to figures released Wednesday by Mokwa, reports in the violent crime category — including murders, rapes, robberies and serious assaults — were down nearly 16 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with same period of 2007.
But taken alone, murders — a small but very visible part of the equation — were rising, up 25 percent the first quarter this year from 2007, and up more than 40 percent to date.
Fewer people called the police in the first quarter, and officers made fewer arrests, Mokwa said. That gave them more time to be seen in neighborhoods, which could have deterred crime, he told the police board.
Rosenfeld said the numbers were "unusual."
"Typically you see homicides and gun assaults tracking closely together," he said. "For gun assaults to be down with homicides up as much as they are this year, it's unusual."
One city leader questioned whether statistics tell the true story of what's happening on the streets.
Charles Quincy Troupe, alderman of the city's 1st Ward, which includes some of the city's highest-crime neighborhoods, insists that crime isn't falling. He says more and more constituents tell him they're so inured to it they don't call police.
"Let me tell you this, the only reason that homicide is reported accurately is because you can't hide it," he said. "When you look at other things outside homicide, like robberies and thefts, people don't even report those anymore. People aren't even calling anymore to say their homes are being burglarized and cannibalized and their air conditioning, their copper and stained glass being ripped out.
"When they put their reports out there," he said, "that's not the actual crime."