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St. Louis murder rate sees big drop in 2003
ST. LOUIS -- The city logged its lowest murder rate in more than four decades in 2003, a dramatic showing that police credit to aggressive law enforcement efforts to rustle up violent offenders.
Police said there had been just 69 killings in the Gateway City in 2003, matching the total of 1962. That was the last time St. Louis registered fewer than 100 murders in a calendar year.
The number for last year represents a 39 percent decrease from the 2002 total of 113 and a striking 74 percent turnaround from 1993, when city killings totaled 267.
"The way homicides have dropped in the city in recent years is nothing short of incredible," said Scott Decker, a University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist who has studied murder for 20 years. "You almost can't find an adjective to describe it."
On a per capita basis, the 2003 murder rate was still more than twice what it was in 1962. The 1960 census put the St. Louis population at 750,026, compared with a 2001 census estimate of 339,211.
Decker said homicide and crime in general dropped all across the country in the 1990s but had leveled off since 2000 -- except in St. Louis.
"We continue to decline, and that's very significant," he said.
Elsewhere around St. Louis, St. Louis County had 30 killings last year, 10 fewer than in 2002 and the lowest total since 1999, when police counted 25. St. Clair County had 31 murders in 2003, down from 35, and St. Charles County had just two while Jefferson County had four. Franklin, Warren and Lincoln counties had no killings last year.
In St. Louis, Police Chief Joe Mokwa said the addition of 100 more officers to the police force and "the strategy of confronting the most violent offenders has left our neighborhoods more stable."
"There've simply been a lot of positive influences coming together," he said.
"We've had a lot of aggressive police work aimed at getting certain individuals off the street," said Capt. James Gieseke, commander of the department's crimes-against-persons unit. "I'd say locking up the violent offenders has to be the No. 1 reason that murders have gone down."
To police Lt. Ron Henderson, commander of the department's homicide division, successful prosecutions have had their impact in the gang-related and drug-related killings, which represent most murders in St. Louis.
And he credited state-of-the-art medicine at Barnes-Jewish and Saint Louis University hospitals in reducing the incidences -- and likelihood -- of death in cases involving violence.
The number of female victims increased as police said they investigated more domestic violence cases last year. About 40 percent of the victims last year were women, up from 30 percent in 2002.