COLUMBIA — Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is running for Missouri governor with the promise of maintaining law and order if he were elected.
He tweeted a promise last month to accomplish this in the city of St. Louis.
“STL named most dangerous city in U.S. This is unacceptable. As #mogov, you can trust me to restore law and order,” Kinder tweeted on Feb. 9.
He also posted a link to an article in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid.
We thought it would be interesting to look at the crime data ourselves and see whether St. Louis really is the most dangerous city in the U.S.
The data used in the Daily Mail article Kinder referenced is from the most recent FBI Uniform Crime Report.
The report does show St. Louis as having the highest violent crime rate compared to other large cities in the U.S. The city jumped from No. 4 to No. 1 on the list, passing Birmingham, Detroit and Memphis.
Top 10 U.S. cities in 2015 with highest violent crime rates per 100,000 population
|City||Violent crime rate|
|St. Louis, Missouri||881|
|Kansas City, Missouri||638|
But we wanted to dig a little deeper to place those numbers in the right context.
Criminology professor Robert Brame from the University of South Carolina said it can't be determined whether one city is more dangerous than another because there isn’t enough data to do so.
“A city could have a high crime rate in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program and not be a particularly dangerous city,” Brame said.
He said this is because crime reporting rates vary between cities. Citizens of one city might feel more comfortable reporting crime to the police than those of another.
“If you compare two cities to each other, you’re making the assumption that the rate at which crimes are not reported to the police are the same from city to city, and I don’t think there’s any reason to make that assumption,” Brame said.
Participation in the Uniform Crime Reporting program is also voluntary. So crime reporting from police departments varies each year, and some reports have missing data.
According to Richard Rosenfeld, Founders Professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, these crime statistics from the FBI don’t tell us anything meaningful about someone’s risk for encountering violence in St. Louis — or any other city, for that matter.
“St. Louis does have a homicide problem in a relatively small number of neighborhoods in the city, and it’s a problem we have to confront,” Rosenfeld said. “But if anyone was to suggest that citywide, people are in danger of becoming a victim of a violent crime, that’s simply false.”
There are many factors to consider when evaluating how violent crime occurs within large cities, and relying on violent crime rates alone can be misleading, Rosenfeld said.
Even the FBI released a report in 2010 advising news outlets and agencies to be cautious of ranking cities based on Uniform Crime Report's statistics.
The report says these rankings lead to simplistic or incomplete analyses, which create misleading perceptions that often have a negative impact on cities and residents. It also says it’s important to consider geographic and demographic factors specific to each city or community in order to make an accurate and complete evaluation of violent crime in those areas.
Rosenfeld said if an individual lives in a high-violence area within a city like St. Louis, then that person’s risk of violence will go up somewhat. Even so, higher crime rates tend to be concentrated in a handful of high-risk neighborhoods.
“Now I don’t want to minimize the dangers associated with living or working in a very high crime neighborhood, but even then there’s enormous variation across street blocks in neighborhoods that are otherwise high crime,” Rosenfeld said.
He said there’s also a lot of variation across individuals depending on their age, their sex and their lifestyle.
Other factors that determine an individual’s risk of violent crime include whether they spend a lot of time outside their home in the evening or whether they work in a job where they make cash transactions with customers.
While St. Louis does have the highest crime rate according to the Uniform Crime Report data from the FBI, it’s misleading for Kinder to say that St. Louis is the most dangerous city in the U.S.
There isn’t enough data on violent crime to determine whether one city is more dangerous than another.
There are also other factors, both geographic and demographic, that contribute to violent crime. The variation in violent crime within the city is much greater than the variation between St. Louis and other large cities.
Comparing cities with one another based on violent crime rates alone does not determine whether a city is more or less dangerous. We rate Kinder’s statement as Mostly False.
Supervising editor is Mike Jenner.