Amid a Continuing Wave of Gun Violence, This U.S. City is Bucking the Trend
Gun violence has continued to cause homicides Consistently high acrossAfter a sharp increase in the number of Americans, 2021 will see the U.S. Last yearDuring the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave.
In general, 2021’s year-on–year rise is smaller than that of 2020. Many major cities, however, have experienced even more murders: In Philadelphia, there were over 550, surpassing the 1990 record. Indianapolis saw over 250 deaths, more than the previous highest toll, 215 (which was in 2020). Over 200 murders in Washington D.C. were first recorded since 2003.
A specific city however has witnessed a reverse trend.
St. Louis was the 2020 winner. highestThe murder rate has fallen to 190 per cent in the past 50 years. This is only 73 more than what was recorded for the same period last year. 263The year before. And it’s not just that the numbers are lower compared to the tumultuous period of 2020, they’re lower than some pre-pandemic years as well. The city had 194 and 2017 had 205 homicides in 2019. (The city’s population has remained statistically consistent over the years).
Particularly, shooting numbers are down 25% from last year.
“The decline we’ve seen this year in St. Louis is really large, and there really isn’t [one] definitive answer as to why,” Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri—St. Louis and a member of the Council on Criminal Justice’s Violent Crime Working Group, which has been this year analyzing the sharp rise in homicides across the country, tells TIME, citing a lack of immediately-available data.
Learn more FBI Data Shows an Increase in Murders by 2020 That’s Not the Full Story
And to Rosenfeld’s point, city authorities, community leaders and local residents all feel like they’ve had an immense impact on the problem. Where they differ though is the extent to which their work has been collaborative versus separate—and, at times, even oppositional.
Dan Isom, St. Louis’ public safety director, says that part of the decline is a result of the city no longer dealing with challenges of lockdowns and restrictions that were in place last year due to COVID-19. Both the Pandemic strain and restrictions are widely believed to have contributed to the increase in gun violence across many cities.
He said that the police have taken a new approach to their work in this year’s elections.
“We’re really focused on a holistic approach to addressing this issue of gun violence,” Isom tells TIME. “We’ve been trying to reduce low-level enforcement and focus on the high-level crimes.”
This “holistic approach,” according to Isom, includes supporting community-led initiatives that attempt to break the cycle of violence. New guidelines state that authorities should contact victims of violent crime to help them cope with trauma, fear, anger, and other issues.
The deployment strategies of the St. Louis Police Department also have changed since last year. Officers are now being sent to areas where they know violence will likely occur, based on “improved intelligence gathering,” Isom says. “We’ve tried to be focused on the people who are actually committing violence and not cast a wide net amongst and the entire community.”
Isom said that department continues to develop its relationship with St. Louis residents who have been directly affected by gun violence. “I think we’re doing a lot of the right things, the most important piece is how can we wrap the community more into this process,” Isom says.
However, community leaders and activists have a different view. From their perspective, the decrease in violence is primarily the result of a renewed focus at the grassroots level to address and combat the issue—and they believe that this change is the result of people being fed up with relying on law enforcement
“A major shift has taken place where [people across St. Louis] are saying we have to be more involved in what’s going on in our neighborhoods,” says James Clark, Vice President of the Division of Public Safety and Community Response for Urban League of St. Louis. “You have individuals that are becoming more active on their blocks.”
Families need to be accountable, as well as the neighbors.Clark explained that people now make an effort to reach out directly to those who could become involved in violence situations. They also get more involved with local organizations looking for ways they can help.
“Churches [and other community organizations]They are involved in food distribution, job fairs and serving as vaccination clinics. These ground-based efforts can be seen as steps to curb gun violence indirecty because they create a better environment in socioeconomically distressed neighborhoods. We are seeing a change in attitude,” Clark continues. “We need family accountability, we need neighborhood accountability. It is not possible to share the responsibility. [addressing] violence solely on the police.”
Furthermore, there’s a notion amongst some community leaders that the police have actually taken a step back from some of their responsibilities this year. LaDon Merriweather, an activist with Serving Our Streets, a gun violence de-escalation program in the city, describes a “disconnect” between police and many St. Louis residents which he says has “grown even more” in 2021.
“I think the morale is low,” Clark adds. “They don’t have the visibility that they once had. I think that’s what’s causing the community to [step up].”
Director Isom is aware of that perspective but says that as far as he’s concerned, the end goal should be for there to be fewer officers visible on the streets—and Arguments that both the number of police officers and their presence could be reduced AndThe ideal situation is one in which gun violence occurs.
Learn more: The Complex Dynamic Between ‘Violence Interrupters’ and Police
The numbers speak for them, regardless of how dynamic the city is in. All stakeholders can see that there is hope for the future of the city. As time goes on, more information and relevant causation—both statistical and anecdotal—will become available, and provide lessons forAnother city that is struggling because of gun violence has homicides.
“Get the people who [experience this problem daily] involved with stopping what’s going on in the community,” says Reginald Slaughter, community coordinator for the Fathers & Families Support Center. “We need to keep the community involved in the solutions. That’s how we’re going to keep this going.”