A new blog from Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based crime analyst, explains that these studies might lead to misconceptions about crime in certain cities, including St. Louis. Asher even went as far as to say “ignore it” when new studies ranking the safest or most dangerous US cities emerged.
One of Asher’s key arguments is that the methodology in ranking cities is often flawed. For instance, a “safest cities” study published in 2023 might use the latest FBI crime data available from 2021. Asher argues that crime could improve or get worse in certain cities in a matter of two years. He also cites an FBI advisory that warns of possible inconsistencies if using their data to rank jurisdictions.
Asher further states that FBI crime data cited in these studies might be presented in ways consistent with “how city boundaries are drawn and how populations are counted.” He uses St. Louis as an example for his reasoning.
“The city of St. Louis is frequently regarded as a city with one of the nation’s highest murder rates, but that dubious distinction is due in part to the city’s formal borders used in calculating crime rates encompassing only a fraction of the city’s overall metro area,” said Asher in his blog.
To this point, according to the latest Census figures, St. Louis City has a population of around 286,000 people, while the metropolitan area has a population of around 2.8 million people. Only around 10 percent of the metro population lives in the city.
Based on the same Census figures, if you’re comparing the City of St. Louis to its westside Missouri counterpart (Kansas City), roughly 20% of the KC metro population lives in the city of Kansas City, Missouri. If you’re comparing it to Detroit, Michigan, which usually finishes with similar rankings to St. Louis in crime studies, roughly 18% of its metro area lives in the city of Detroit.
Asher also uses Houston and Las Vegas as examples to suggest that flagship cities with a larger portion of their population in the city (as opposed to the metropolitan area) could see smaller crime rates within the city’s boundaries. To reiterate this point: St. Louis City has more crime per capita because, compared to St. Louis suburbs and the size of St. Louis City vs. other big cities in major US metros, the City of St. Louis is quite small.
Perhaps one consideration in the aforementioned studies is crime in the City of St. Louis vs. St. Louis County. In August 1876, voters narrowly approved a plan for the City of St. Louis to split boundaries with St. Louis County. The city and county have been separate jurisdictions since then, though the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported as recently as last year on some potential interest among officials to reunite the city and county as one.
In that hypothetical case of a merger, St. Louis City still wouldn’t represent the whole metropolitan area, but the crime data interpreted in the studies could be drastically different.
Better Together, the organization that advocated for the merger of St. Louis City and County governments as recently as 2019, once suggested St. Louis would drop from the top of the “dangerous cities” rankings to the middle of the pack among major cities through a merger.
According to the St. Louis County and Municipal Crime Map, the county has reported roughly 4,000 crimes against persons through early-August, which would pace for around 6,000 such crimes in a year. With St. Louis County’s population of nearly 1 million people in mind and the current county crime pace, there is less than 1% of a chance countywide of someone being a victim of a violent crime.
Those numbers could change the ultimate totals in St. Louis City if considered as part of one unit with the county, which would further affects ranks and scores on the safest or most dangerous US cities.
As for Asher’s crime blog, the main message is to make sure to look at the methodology of studies that rank or evaluate cities based on crime, plus the boundaries for where the crime stats are counted, before jumping to conclusions.