Murder Rate in 21st Ward Down Eighty Percent from Last Year, Says Alderman French

Has the 21st Ward set the new standard for north St. Louis?
Has the 21st Ward set the new standard for north St. Louis?

In an interview with KSDK this morning, Alderman Antonio French said that gun murders in the 21st ward are on pace to be 80 percent lower than last year's rate.

It's a startling statement for a politician to make in "America's Most Dangerous City." After all, the news hook for the interview was the three shootings involving children that took place around St. Louis between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. last night (none of them occurred in the 21st Ward). But the numbers definitely back up French's claims. Between January and May 2010, there were five murders in the 21st Ward. In that same time period this year, the ward had just one murder.

In contrast, the city as a whole has maintained just about the same murder rate as last year -- 52 murders through May 2010, versus 51 murders through May 2011. French's 21st Ward has seen greatest reduction in murders of any ward in St. Louis.

So what is the neighborhood doing so right?

Well, first off French installed security cameras at certain "hot spots" for crime. He has used his block grant money to renovate whole blocks at a time, rather sprinkling it around to fix up singular properties throughout the ward. And he has focused much of his energy on creating safe public places for his constituents: He spruced up O'Fallon Park and is currently working on "The Sanctuary," a community center scheduled to open later this year.

"We've also been reaching out to neighbors, really engaging them through block units to participate in the community events," he said on KSDK. "And really we're trying to restore a sense of community where neighbors are communicating with each other and looking out for one another."

But it is an uphill battle, he acknowledged.

"We live in an urban community in a rural gun-loving state," he said, "and the laws are set up to put guns out there."

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