St. Louis overtakes Detroit as nation’s murder capital

The Detroit News
  • FBI crime rate shows Detroit is No. 2 in murder rate
  • Detroit still leads nation in overall crime rate
  • Even so, violent crime is dropping in Detroit and nationwide

Detroit has been toppled from its perch atop the list of cities with the highest murder rate.

But the Motor City’s overall violent crime rate remains the nation’s worst for the second straight year for cities of more than 100,000 residents, according to FBI crime statistics released this week.

St. Louis, with a murder rate of 50 per 100,000 people, topped Detroit’s rate of 44. The Gateway City, with a population of about 318,000, had 159 murders last year, according to the data. Detroit had 298 murders in 2014, down from 316 in 2013, a 6 percent drop.

“It’s no secret that in 2014 we lowered violent crime, and we had the lowest number of criminal homicides in 40 years,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. “We’re not waving the flag of success, but we are waving the flag of progress.”

St. Louis and Detroit were followed by New Orleans (39 per 100,000); Jackson, Mississippi (35), and Baltimore (34). Detroit’s murder rate was nearly 10 times the national average of 4.5 per 100,000 residents.

Incidents of violent crime are down in Detroit, according to the FBI. Last year, there were 13,616 violent crimes — murder, rape, assault and robbery — compared with 14,504 in 2013, a 6.5 percent drop.

That comes despite a more than 10 percent decrease in the number of police in the past two years.

Alberta Caldwell, whose husband, Tommie Lee Caldwell, was killed during a December 2011 home invasion, said it’s not only police who are responsible for deterring crime. “It takes the community to help out, too,” she said.

Caldwell, 68, said she thinks Craig has done a good job as police chief “with what he has to work with.”

Craig said this year there were “sporadic, multiple victims shot which drove a lot of fear. But despite those tragic situations violent crime is down again this year and I’m optimistic we’ll continue the downward trend.”

Craig credited higher officer morale for part of the reduction.

“I’m absolutely convinced there’s a correlation between morale and crime,” he said. “When police officers don’t feel supported, their productively goes down and crime goes up.”

Craig eliminated 12-hour shifts, which were not popular with officers and he scrapped “virtual precincts.”

He also has attributed recent drops in crime to a focus on data, which increases accountability of commanders by requiring precinct captains to appear at weekly meetings to explain crime trends in their areas and what they’re doing to address them.

This year, there have been 214 homicides, Assistant Chief Steve Dolunt said Thursday. Last year at this time the city had 212. Robberies are down 18 percent year to date; down 37 percent compared to 2013, police say

Overall crime this year is down 11 percent — exceeding Craig’s goal of a 5 percent cut.

Nationally, violent crime numbers declined 0.2 percent last year from 2013 and the number of homicides was down 0.5 percent, according to the release.

St. Louis’ murder rate jumped last year from the 2013 rate of 31 per 100,000. Detroit’s murder rate dropped slightly in 2014.

St. Louis was one of few major cities where homicides jumped in 2014, and officials are grappling with why, media coverage shows.

In 2013, Detroit’s murder rate led the nation for cities with populations over 100,000. The year before that Flint held the top spot when its population was above that mark. And in 2011, the New Orleans murder rate led the nation, according to FBI data.

Two other Michigan cities, Flint and Saginaw, joined Detroit among the top five cities last year with the highest rates of violent crime with populations greater than 50,000.

Flint’s rate was third nationally with 1,694 violent crimes and Saginaw’s rate ranked fourth with 845 violent crimes.

Murders fell dramatically in both cities. In Flint, they were down to 28 from 48 in 2013, while they fell to 11 from 29 in Saginaw.

Other cities in Michigan with populations above 100,000 are among the nation’s safest. Ann Arbor had no murders in 2014 and its violent crime rate was the 46th lowest in the nation. Sterling Heights was the 46th safest.