St. Louis 2020 murder rate hits 50-year high, police chief points to coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest

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The murder rate in St. Louis, Mo. for all of 2020 was higher than it’s been in roughly five decades, falling just short of the city's all-time record, according to local reports.

St. Louis' Metropolitan Police Department reported 262 people murdered in 2020 — just five fewer than the record of 267, which was set in 1993.

However, city data show the homicide rate was higher in 2020 because the city’s population has declined from more than 395,000 in 1990 to approximately 348,000 in 2000 and 319,000 in 2010. 

The city's homicide rate, however, reached 87 murders per 100,000 residents for the year — the highest rate on record since 1970, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. And despite the record number of murders reported for 1993, the rate for that year was still far lower, with 69 killings per 100,000, according to the report.

City leaders, including police Chief Col. John W. Hayden, Jr., attributed the high homicide numbers to civil unrest and the novel coronavirus pandemic, which pulled resources from areas where officers would normally be more focused.

Speaking to local affiliate FOX 2 St. Louis on Sunday, Hayden said the high crime rate is not unlike what several other cities throughout the country are experiencing.

"This was a year that we just saw unique things," he said. "Of course, we had a lot of distractions with civil unrest, the COVID situation that we've had to persevere through."

Hayden said the pandemic caused joblessness, which created added stress for many people who already "had the social ills."

On the civil unrest, he said demonstrations and protests required police monitoring.

Protesters rally as they march through the streets on May 29, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

"When people set things on fire, when people assault folk during the protest, those are things that we have to monitor," he said. "Certainly, that pulled away from resources that would have been dedicated to crime-fighting."

The number of murders in 2020 was more than 35% higher than the 194 people killed in 2019, FOX 2 reported. Last year’s homicide tally reportedly equates to roughly one murder every 33 hours.

St. Louis’ homicide rate was already high in 2019 so the spike there was especially deadly.

Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told The Associated Press that violent crime rose sharply in 28 U.S. cities he reviewed starting last May — around the time many stay-at-home orders related to the pandemic were ending.

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"St. Louis sees a similar spike that we saw elsewhere," Rosenfeld said, "but what’s different is its starting level was already so high."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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