More homicides have occurred in the city of St. Louis in nine months than in the entire previous year, according to the St. Louis Police Department Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR). In a year with a pandemic and civil unrest, some are left wondering if there is a connection.
As of September 30 the total number of homicides for the city of St. Louis have reached 206 surpassing the previous year by twelve. Jeff Vanderlou is the neighborhood with the most homicides, reaching 15, which is a 200 percent increase from the five in 2019. Walnut Park West also increased from three homicides in 2019 to 13 this year and Walnut Park East witnessed 9 killing in 2020.
Areas that have seen increase from 2019 to 2020 are Academy, which saw a 400 percent rise from 1 to 6 and the same for West End. Hamilton has doubled its numbers from three to six. The UCR report states that 283 firearms were used in these homicides.
Richie Schnicker has been a police officer in the city of St. Louis for 15 years and the majority of the time he works in the north side of St. Louis. When asked about the increase in crime rates this year Richie says, “The only thing that we can do as far as helping to prevent it is being out in the street and being seen, and actually engaging with people and talking to them.”
When asked about the Police Department he says, “We have no actual resources […], what resources we have are separate from each other, or work against each other, there’s not real umbrella or centralized type of system.” Schnicker believes that the increase in crime stems from the systemic racial inequalities that occur from neighborhood to neighborhood and says, “The city of St. Louis needs to get their shit together, as a government for the people, all the people.”
A PhD student at the Criminology and Criminal Justice at University of Missouri – St. Louis, Thomas Baker was a police officer for nine years in Phoenix, Ariz. He explains that it’s important that people in the community trust the police and the government. He says it’s important for people to believe that the government are going to be fair arbitrators of their disputes if they have a problem; that they can pick up the phone, call 911 and a person will come and provide them with safety and security. He says, “It’s vital that that exist,” and continues “A lot of people have lost a lot of trust in the state, lost a lot of trust in the government and the police specifically and that may have some role in explaining why homicide rates specifically have gone up.”
He also believes that some of the fault lies with “the tone of the discourse that is being injected into the society by people with power. When you have individual who uses inflammatory rhetoric for political gains, that can make certain members of the community feel targeted. If a person with political power were to be using language that alienated a specific segment of the population based on their identity, for example, then that could further contribute to the diminish levels of trust.”
Baker explains how there’s a strong association between high levels of trust and lower rates of homicide, saying, “when there is solidarity amongst the population and when people are united and feel as though they should trust their government, that their government is doing right by them and representing their interests, things tend to be more peaceful.”
This is something that Randolph Roth, a professor from Ohio State University, writes about in his book American Homicide, where he explains the correlation between feelings and beliefs people have in the government and homicide rates. His research suggests that political leadership and killings are associated.
St. Louis crime had been decreasing over the years, but homicides have climbed in 2020, an election year with a pandemic. If there is a correlation between political trust and murder rates, what will the future of the city look like if the current president is re-elected?