Crime is down in St. Louis. A recent Post-Dispatch story said it might not be, because Chief Dan Isom had recently changed the way crime is counted.
It would take a patient accountant to figure out whether some categories of crime are lower over the past four than they were in prior years. That's because, back in 2006, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department changed the way it counted some crimes. A double homicide has always been reported as two murders, but five car break-ins on the same block might have been reported as a single incident or as five of them. That is one of the points Chief Isom was trying to make to the reporter. And somewhere along the line, the message was garbled.
The chief says the department changed its counting methodology four years ago to comply with Federal Bureau of Investigation standards. But, he says, it has followed the policy haphazardly. So, quietly and without saying much about it to anyone, he has been trying to improve the department's consistency. For instance, since April, the department has tried to send a police officer to the scenes of reported car break-ins, in part to make the proper assessment of whether to report one crime or several.
Sending officers to car break-ins and being able to distinguish between an incident and a crime wave are differences in policy that we should welcome. The department changed its methodology in 2006 in order to conform more closely with the requirements of the FBI. (That's a good thing. While St. Louis has been trying harder to comply with FBI guidelines, other cities are being criticized for failing to do so.) And Chief Isom changed his department's policy in April in order to be more accurate about what it is being reported. What's annoying is that the department did such a poor job of explaining all of this to you, to me, and to the news media. Based on the original newspaper reporting, I called this "misleading." After talking to the chief, I now want to call it "really bad communications." I think both changes made by the department were positive developments that should have been announced broadly, widely, and clearly. Were it a City agency, I like to think it would have been. However, the City's police department has been controlled by the State of Missouri since the Civil War. And it always will be unless the Missouri General Assembly and the governor support a change.