St Louis, Missouri, which is currently undergoing a radical experiment in its criminal justice system, saw the highest murder rate at the end of 2019 than any year since 1970.
According to figures from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, 262 people were murdered in the city. That’s just five homicides shy from the all-time record in 1993.
But the murder rate, at 87 murders per 100,000 residents, is the highest in 50 years due to a smaller population as the city has undergone a steady outflow of residents for the last 60 years.
Local officials, such as St. Louis Police Chief Col. John W. Hayden, have blamed COVID-19 lockdown policies and economic conditions for the dramatic 30% increase in murders. The summer’s anti-police protests, Hayden says, also contributed to a breakdown in the social order.
“When people set things on fire, when people assault folk during the protest, those are things that we have to monitor,” he said in an interview Sunday. “Certainly, that pulled away from resources that would have been dedicated to crime-fighting.”
The new figures place St. Louis as one of the most dangerous cities in the country, with a higher murder rate than what most urban areas have seen in over a decade.
Despite the blame on COVID-19 and racial unrest following the killing of George Floyd, St. Louis has experienced a rising homicide rate for years. Since 2012, homicides in the metro area have risen by double digits nearly every year. Crime in St. Louis cost each resident there nearly $9,500 for a total of $2.8 billion in 2019, the highest in the nation, according to one study.
The rate started seeing a dramatic spike after 2016, when it earned the title of having the most murders per capita in the country the following year, making it more dangerous than cities such as Detroit in the 1980s or Washington, D.C., in the 1990s. St. Louis is now the fourth deadliest city in the world, with more murders per resident taking place there than Mexican cities ravaged by cartels such as Ciudad Victoria and Ciudad Juárez.
2016 was also the year the city elected Kim Gardner as circuit attorney for St. Louis, the first black top prosecutor for the city. Gardner’s campaign was heavily financed by left-wing billionaire George Soros as part of his broader strategy of placing Democrats who vow to reverse “tough on crime” policies in top law enforcement positions.
Reelected in November 2020, Gardner has dramatically overhauled the government’s response to crime in the St. Louis area. Her office has seen thousands of fewer prosecutions for various offenses than her predecessor and implemented a policy of deferring prison sentences for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
Per her campaign website, Gardner touts mandating implicit bias training for all her office’s attorneys and efforts to “revolutionize the functioning of our criminal justice system.”
“Kim has made jail and prison a last resort, reserved for those who pose a true public safety risk, not for individuals who commit petty offenses, suffer from addiction or mental illness, or are too poor to post bond,” Gardner boasts.
Tensions between Gardner and the St. Louis Police Department reached a boiling point last January in the midst of a public disagreement over whether the prosecutor’s office was issuing charges after felony arrests.
“I would like to see our warrants to be looked at and analyzed and then, when there are warrants that show that officers arrested people for probable cause, I would like warrants to be issued,” Hayden said at the time.
Gardner called the police department’s criticisms misleading and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and police union for partaking in a racist conspiracy to undermine her agenda. The lawsuit was filed under the now-rarely used Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, initially passed to give power to the federal government for arresting racial terror groups in the South following the Civil War.
The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association denied any plot to remove Gardner from power and called the lawsuit “nothing more than a fanatic ploy” and an attempt to deflect from her policies of turning “murderers and other violent criminals loose to prey on St. Louis’s most vulnerable citizens.”
In September, a federal judge dismissed Gardner’s lawsuit and wrote that her accusations “can be described as a conglomeration of unrelated claims and conclusion statements supported by very few facts, which do not plead any recognizable cause of actions.”