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Who suffers from defunding the police? This blue city has over 1,000 unsolved murders

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Police in St. Louis, Missouri, have been battling stiff budget cuts and severe staff shortages in the wake of the defund the police movement, even as the city has more than 1,000 unsolved murders and has been consistently ranked as one of America’s most dangerous cities. 

In 2019 and 2020, St. Louis had one of the highest murder rates for any major American city per 100,000 residents, with one of those deaths counting the killing of former St. Louis Police Capt. David Dorn amid protests following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

But the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) says it has shown some success in reining in spiraling crime figures, reporting a 21% reduction in homicides in 2023 compared to the year before. Still, more than 1,000 murders carried out over the last decade in the city remain unsolved.

ST. LOUIS POLICE FORCE HITS ALL-TIME LOW FOLLOWING ‘DEFUND POLICE’ MOVEMENT: ‘IT’S OUT OF CONTROL’

St Louis police investigating a shooting

Police investigate the scene of a shooting in the 3500 block of North 14th Street in St. Louis, Missouri, where a 7-year-old was shot and killed and an 18-year-old sustained a critical gunshot wound on Aug. 12, 2019.  (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Thomas Hargrove, the founder of the Murder Accountability Project, a group that compiles data on unsolved homicides, reports that there were 1,903 homicides in St. Louis from 2013 through 2022, of which 1,068 remain unsolved. That equates to a near 44% solved homicide rate, or clearance rate, per the data which is sourced from the police and FBI.

“St. Louis is experiencing a lower clearance rate than the national average,” Hargrove told Fox News Digital. “During most of those years, most police departments were experiencing something like 55% clearance rates, maybe approaching 60%. St. Louis is well below that but major inner cities, routinely reporting a clearance rate of less than 50%, so St. Louis is not particularly an outlier.”

Hargrove said St. Louis has faced serious fiscal challenges, with the city’s tax base in decline and people leaving. 

“In the last three years, St. Louis has averaged about 6,000 fewer residents each year than the year before,” Hargrove said.

St. Louis Missouri Black Lives Matter riots

A car burns at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Tucker Boulevard on June 2, 2020, in St Louis. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Police numbers have been dwindling too, with the department budgeted for around 1,220 officers, but having over 300 vacancies as of a December report. In 1998, staffing levels stood at over 1,600 officers. 

In 2019 the police department’s homicide budget was cut for the third time since 2012, American Public Media reported.

“They’re trying to do more with less, it’s a problem and honestly, homicides and homicide clearance rates are a function of available personnel and other resources,” Hargrove said. “It is not uncommon for major cities like St. Louis to be suffering a resource problem, and St. Louis has one of the worst.”

Dorn’s widow, Ann Dorn, told Fox News earlier this year that the defund the police movement was having a negative impact on the morale of the city, and as a result they are “losing officers left and right.” 

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones have both supported defunding St. Louis police. In 2021, Jones redirected $4 million from the police overtime budget to hire social workers within the police department and increase funds for affordable housing. Nevertheless, current police officers are getting a pay increase this year, ranging from 8% to 13%.

Bush and Jones’ offices did not return Fox News Digital’s requests for comment.

MY HUSBAND CAPT. DAVID DORN WAS MURDERED IN 2020 RIOTS. HIS KILLER HAD HELP DIVIDING AMERICA

“Nobody wants to come down in the city and be a policeman anymore. It’s out of control. We were never like that… until the last five, 10 years,” Dorn said.

Sgt. Charles Wall, a spokesperson for the SLMPD, told Fox News Digital that the department’s clearance rate is higher due to a change in the way the figures are reported. 

Since 2021, the department’s clearance rate is compiled via the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), and when a case is solved, it is automatically updated in the system. That was not the case prior to 2021 when an older system was used, Wall said.

“We don’t have the ability to routinely go back and cull those numbers, and that’s the great benefit of the NIBRS technology. Those numbers are constantly updated to reflect those changes,” Wall said.

“As an agency, we have solved more, but we can’t easily quantify them. The way it’s being reported can be misleading and it’s unfortunate that that confusion exists.”

“Nobody wants to come down in the city and be a policeman anymore.”

— Ann Dorn

Still, based on figures available, the number of unsolved murder cases in St Louis has disproportionately affected the Black community, with a clearance rate of 48% for White victims compared to a 36.5% clearance rate for Black victims from 2013 through 2022. About 43.7% of the city’s 298,000 people are Black, based on 2022 census data.

“In most major cities, Black murders are less likely to be solved than White murders,” Hargrove says. “And the primary culprit for that is a refusal in the Black community to trust police and to be willing to come forward and be witness to what people have seen, which is the only way murders get solved. If there’s no cooperation between police and the community they serve, crimes are not going to be solved. It’s that simple.”

Some critics blame an under-representation of Black St. Louis detectives for the disproportionate clearance rates, while there are also cases in the Black community when potential witnesses have been threatened, creating a chilling effect in the community as people are afraid to speak to police.

For instance, The Marshall Project, a nonprofit criminal justice group, reports that 16-year-old James Scales witnessed the killing of his friend Dwayne Clanton, 18, in December 2016.

St Louis school shooting today gunman

Police investigate the scene of a shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Oct. 24, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Scales talked with police and agreed to testify in the case but in the ensuing months, he was shot at and verbally threatened, the group reports, citing a lawsuit filed by Scales’ parents and police reports. 

Scales’ mother also said her home was shot at and that “a messenger” told her not to go to court, according to the lawsuit. Scales was shot and killed while waiting for his school bus the following year. Four men were charged with murdering Scales but were later acquitted, along with the defendant Scales might have testified against.

Wall said cooperation between the police and the community, as well as the police and the Circuit Attorney’s office, is paramount to solving cases.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office pointed Fox News Digital to a damning report on former St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, when asked about unsolved murders. The report, titled “The Kim Gardner Report,” outlined the “willful dereliction of her duties” while in office from 2016 through 2023.  

Gardner was elected as the city’s first Black circuit attorney and was part of a movement of progressive prosecutors who sought diversion to mental health or drug abuse treatment for low-level crimes, pledged to hold police more accountable and proactively sought to free inmates who were wrongfully convicted. 

Prior to her resignation, Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed a lawsuit seeking her ouster on three grounds: failure to prosecute existing cases; failure to file charges in cases brought by police; and failure to confer with and inform victims and their families about the status of cases. Gardner said Bailey’s attack on her was politically and racially motivated.

Kim Gardner

Former St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a progressive prosecutor, was in office from 2016 through 2023 and was criticized for not prosecuting existing cases. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Even though its unsolved homicides are high, the SLMPD appears to be turning the corner.

Wall said the department is reporting 92 of the city’s 162 murders last year were solved, a near 57% clearance rate. There have been 80 homicides so far in 2024, of which 51 were cleared, or 64%, although the data for the past 18 months has yet to be verified by the FBI.

In addition, there was a 24% reduction in shooting incidents, according to a 2023 crime report released by the mayor’s office and the SLMPD. There were also decreases in felony thefts, auto theft and burglaries, among other categories.

“We are always looking into new information and investigations to solve homicides,” Wall said, noting that there are still dedicated detectives working on a grisly case from 1983, when a Black girl – a Jane Doe – between the ages of 8 and 11 was found dead.

“Our cold cases are always open. We will always peruse those cases and ultimately provide justice to the victims and the families of those victims of homicide,” Wall said. “One unsolved case is too many. Our investigators work tirelessly to get justice for the victims and the victims’ families.”

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Hargrove, meanwhile, said the entire city suffers when killers are not brought to justice.  

“Nothing good happens when most killers are allowed to walk the streets, killers are available to kill again,” Hargrove says.

“Uncaught killers also inspire others and they demonstrate that there are no sanctions to murder. Uncaught killers prompt revenge killing. A loved one may feel obligated to take the law into his own hands if police cannot make an arrest. 

“Murder can beget murder, especially unsolved murder.”

Fox News’ Elizabeth Heckman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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