The Real Story Behind St Louis Crime Rates

At least once a year, St. Louis faces a wealth of media criticism and bad publicity when the Washington D.C.-based publisher CQ Press releases its annual City Crime Rankings: Crime in Metropolitan America report. This publication consistently ranks St. Louis as one of the most dangerous cities in America, and the city is subsequently portrayed as such in the media. Though this publication is often quoted by the press, virtually all criminology experts (including the FBI and U.S. Council of Mayors) believe the CQ’s methods to be faulty and its data very unreliable. Scott Morgan, the co-editor of the publication himself, said during a television interview in 2006, “I am stunned if there is a criminologist out there who will support this.”

It is our hope to set the record straight about St. Louis crime rates, as well as any other cities whose reputations have been tarnished because of this flawed publication, by revealing the gross inaccuracies of this study.

Check out this recent Gallup Survey which reports 74% of St. Louisans feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they live.  That puts St. Louis as the 14th safest city on the list of the 50 most populous MSA’s in the county.

The Method:

The CQ Press’ ranking system measures a city’s per-capita incidence of six different crimes: murder, robbery, rape, burglary, aggravated assault and motor-vehicle theft.  This rate is then compared to the national average. The differences in these six crime areas are averaged together to produce an overall score representing the difference between the rate of crime in St. Louis and the national rate.

The Misconceptions:

01. False boundaries:

Geographic location (where the boundary is drawn between city and suburb) is critical to the crime ranking score in St. Louis. The city’s tight boundaries restrict the most populated part of the area from being factored into the equation. St. Louis city is a mere 62 sq. miles compared to the entire metropolitan area, which measures a total of 3,322 sq. miles.

The truth is… If you factor in the entire metropolitan St. Louis area crime statistics, we are ranked 91st according to the CQ Press while being the 19th most populated metro area in the country, which is far from the “dangerous city” that CQ Press makes us out to be.

02. Equality isn’t always fair:

In its methodology, the CQ Press weighs each of the six types of crimes equally.

The truth is… As far as the study is concerned, a city with a high instance of car theft would be considered just as dangerous as a city with the same instance of murder.

03. What’s factored out:

Different demographics such as age, lifestyle and place of residence have a significant impact on crime risk, much more so than what city someone  lives in or visits, but those factors are not considered in the study. People who spend their evenings outside of the home and do not take proper safety precautions are at far greater risks of becoming victims than those who choose to stay at home, regardless of what city they live in.

The truth is… The city in which a person lives or visits reveals very little about his or her risk of becoming a victim of crime, especially when compared with more prominent risk factors such as lifestyle and age.

04. To report or not to report:

Crime reporting is NOT consistent across all cities. For example, New York doesn’t report thefts of items worth less than $1,000 and Chicago doesn’t even meet the FBI’s uniform crime reporting criteria.

The truth is… In 2013, the City of Chicago, Las Vegas, Honolulu and a number of other cities weren’t included in the rankings because their crime reporting didn’t meet stated FBI criteria.

Words from the top:

The validity of these rankings has been heavily debated. Here is what some prominent figures in criminology had to say concerning these inconsistencies.

“These rankings represent a gross misuse of FBI data. Everyone with the slightest knowledge of this issue knows the rankings are not credible, but the publication persists with them, presumably because rankings are popular and sell books.”

Annise D. Parker, Mayor of Houston and Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Criminal and Social Justice Committee

“Such rankings are invalid, damaging and irresponsible. City crime rankings make no one safer, but they can harm the cities they tarnish and divert attention from the individual and community characteristics that elevate crime in all cities.”

The American Society of Criminology

Referenced articles:

Learn more about the publications inaccurate crime rankings:

Why city crime rankings offer a misleading picture by Richard Rosenfled, USA Today, 11/29/07

In Crime Lists, Nuance is a Victim by Carl Bialik, The Wall Street Journal, 12/4/10

St. Louis most violent? It’s not so simple, expert says by Ashley Fantz, CNN, 11/22/10

Parker says city’s ranking a real crime by Bradley Olson, Houston Chronicle, 11/22/10