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

The murder rate in St. Louis, Missouri, was higher for all of 2020 than it has been in about five decades, and was only just below the city’s record, according to local reports.

The Metropolitan Police Department in St. Louis reported that 262 people were murdered in 2020 – just five fewer than the record of 267 set in 1993.

However, city data shows that the murder rate was higher in 2020 as the city’s population fell from more than 395,000 in 1990 to around 348,000 in 2000 and 319,000 in 2010.

However, the city’s homicide rate reached 87 homicides per 100,000 residents a year – the highest rate recorded 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, at 69 kills per 100,000, the report said.


City guides, including Police Chief Colonel John W. Hayden Jr., attributed the high murder rates to civil unrest and the novel coronavirus pandemic, which pulled resources from areas where officers were usually more concentrated.

Hayden spoke to local subsidiary FOX 2 St. Louis on Sunday about the high crime rate being no different from several other cities in the country.

“We’ve only seen unique things this year,” he said. “Of course we had a lot of distractions from civil unrest, the COVID situation that we had to go through.”

Hayden said the pandemic caused unemployment, adding additional stress to many people who already “had the social ills”.

Regarding the riots, he said demonstrations and protests required police surveillance.

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

“When people set things on fire, when people attack people during the protest, we have to monitor those things,” he said. “Certainly that has withdrawn from resources that would have been dedicated to fighting crime.”

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

The murder rate in St. Louis was already high in 2019, so the increase there was particularly fatal.

Richard Rosenfeld, professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis told The Associated Press that the number of violent crimes in 28 U.S. cities, which he was reviewing from last May, had risen sharply – around the time many pandemic-related orders ended at home.


“St. Louis sees a similar peak that we’ve seen elsewhere,” said Rosenfeld, “but what’s different is that the starting level was already that high.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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