Hopefully only a minor setback...
City fears crime report fallout
SUMMARY: Mayor Francis Slay's office struck back Monday at what officials say is a flawed study ranking St. Louis at the top of the nation's large cities in crime.
Here we go again: A publisher in Kansas, using a formula decried by criminologists, says St. Louis is the most dangerous city in the United States. And city officials are fuming.
As the buzz lifted from Sunday's World Series parade, the ranking kept national media focused here. The storyline? St. Louis: First in baseball, first in crime. Detroit finished second in both.
All the attention from the annual safety ranking by Morgan Quitno Press — a publisher of reference books and lists of statistics — had St. Louis officials seeing red — and not of the Cardinals variety.
"This thing is bogus," grumbled Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay.
But bogus or not, Rainford said, there is good reason to worry the ranking could hurt St. Louis.
Nancy Milton, spokeswoman for the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, said she fielded phone calls Monday from convention planners concerned about what they were hearing. She declined to identify them.
"A majority of them say they're going to face questions from their boards of directors and their constituents, and they want to get ahead of those questions," she said. Milton said most seemed to understand that the ranking had little to do with the safety of conventioneers.
"Chicago had 448 murders and St. Louis had a regrettable 131, but I don't think anyone is going to stop going to Chicago," she said.
Morgan Quitno's assessment is based on a given city's rates last year in six crime categories — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft — as reported to the FBI. The firm, in Lawrence, Kan., scored cities against national averages in each category and added the scores, weighting each crime the same.
Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said Morgan Quitno's methodology is flawed because it compares places like Memphis, which includes miles of outlying areas, to St. Louis, where the city limits barely extend from the urban core.
"Does St. Louis have a crime problem? Yes, sure, it has a crime problem, and every big city has a crime problem. Like every big city, it's worse in some areas than others," he said.
A more telling comparison might be of metropolitan areas, Rosenfeld said.
Using the same methodology, the St. Louis area ranked 129th most dangerous out of 344 metro areas, said Morgan Quitno's president, Scott Morgan.
He said such lists are what they are, and he's not surprised this one draws some criticism. "I am stunned if there is a criminologist out there who will support this," he acknowledged.
St. Louis last held the mantle of shame in 2002, but sloughed it off. It finished no higher than fourth in intervening years, and lost this year in a landslide, Morgan said.
A bad finish was not a surprise, as reports of violent crimes surged 20 percent last year to their highest levels in seven years.
On Monday, the city struck back, decrying the timing of the release and the methodology behind the ranking. Morgan Quitno usually releases its study around Thanksgiving.
"I've got to give them credit," Rainford said. "They don't know anything about crime or statistics but they do know something about public relations."
Rainford, a former PR man, blasts Morgan Quitno every fall. (Last year: "worthless"; two years ago: "charlatans".) On Monday, he said City Hall was ratcheting up the city's defense.
To wit, he branded Morgan "this guy who's working in his pajamas and his bare feet in his mother's basement on his PC."
Morgan said he did not purposefully release the report to coincide with the World Series; he said it was released earlier than in other years because his firm received crime data from the FBI earlier.
"I am fine getting fried by people who want to go after this thing and say there is not a problem in St. Louis," he said.
Not that everyone was unhappy. Some 900 miles away, Gwendolyn Faison, mayor of Camden, N.J., told the Associated Press that her day was made.
Her hard-luck community held the mantle the past two years. Without the most dangerous title, "There's a new hope and a new spirit," she said.
The most dangerous five:
1. St. Louis
3. Flint, Mich.
4. Compton, Calif.
5. Camden, N.J.
The safest five:
1. Brick, N.J.
2. Amherst, N.Y.
3. Mission Viejo, Calif.
4. Newton, Mass.
5. Troy, Mich.