Transit Blamed for Suburban St. Louis Crime

1316834466_9ccbd09338.jpgLast week Freakonomics picked up a story from the Riverfront Times that connects an uptick in shoplifting, fighting and other crimes in the St. Louis suburbs to a two-year-old expansion of the city's MetroLink rail system.

Ask virtually any store manager at the Saint Louis Galleria about shoplifting, and you'll invariably get two responses: One, it's out of control; and two, it's gotten exceedingly worse since August 2006, when MetroLink opened a stop just 500 yards from the high-end shopping center.

In the first six months of this year, Richmond Heights police made 345 arrests at the mall. That's nearly double the number of arrests made in all of 2005, before MetroLink opened its Shrewsbury line.

More alarming are the numbers of juveniles (kids under the age of seventeen) arrested at the mall. This year police are on pace to take 276 juveniles into custody for shoplifting and other offenses — a sevenfold increase over the 39 kids arrested at the Galleria in 2005.

"I know it's not politically correct, but how else do you explain it?" comments a frustrated Galleria store manager.

Not everyone is as reactionary. A police officer who regularly patrols the mall, asked to explain the "surge," replied: "Who knows? Perhaps it's the downturn in the economy. Or maybe it's the need for teens to feel like they have to wear the latest fashions."

Of course it could also be that improved transit brings more people in general, or that authorities are more likely to target those who appear out of place for engaging in activities that might otherwise go overlooked. But after establishing its "city problems invade the 'burbs" theme, the story avoids such analysis, relying instead on rote "he said she said" coverage. To wit:

Richmond Heights police reported arresting three adult males — ages 23, 29 and 31 — implicated in a string of thefts earlier this summer. According to Macy's loss-prevention officers, the men would enter the department store, conceal merchandise under their clothes and then hightail it across the Galleria parking lot to the MetroLink station. By the time Macy's officers realized what had been stolen, the men were already on a train out of town.

"Just as we don't blame the automobile industry if someone commits a crime with a car, you need to be careful about blaming the mode of transportation for some of these recent isolated incidents," says [Metro spokeswoman] Dianne Williams.

Photo of St. Louis Galleria: merfam/Flickr