News 4 Investigates: Metro's PR Overkill -

News 4 Investigates: Metro's PR Overkill

Metro is the massive transit agency operating trains and buses in the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County, Illinois.

On Sunday, there was a stabbing on a downtown Metro platform. Those kind of attacks are extremely rare on Metro, but assaults and batteries (physical attacks) did increase 40% last year. In 2007, Metro reported 37 assaults and batteries. Last year, there were 52 reported incidents. Today, we found a strong presence of security at each of the five stations we visited in St. Louis and St. Clair County.

Clearly, with a ridership of more than 21 million in 2007, violent crime on Metro is rare.
Metro spokeswoman Diane Williams seemed to downplay the number of assaults on Metro by comparing them to violent crime in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County. I am giving you virtually all of her response.

I'm not doing this to lay down for Metro. I'm doing it because I believe it demonstrates the remarkable degree of overkill used by Metro to make a simple point. It also gives you, a member of our audience, the chance to see how part of the news gathering process works, at least in this case.

Here are some excerpts from her e-mails:

I understand you are working on a story about an altercation between a man and a woman where the man was stuck in the forearm with a pen knife because the woman objected to his approaching her girlfriend.

I did a quick scan of violent crimes over the last couple of weeks in a variety of venues, and they all look more serious than the one that happened on the train, (see recent violent crimes attached), so I'm struggling with why this crime deserves follow-up 48 hours later?

My concern is context. I understand that we are a landmark and familiar to people, but to report on crimes on the train that you would not think twice about if they happened someplace else, creates and then feeds upon a false impression of the level of crime on MetroLink.

I ask you to consider whether this pen knife incident would have been a story if it had happened anywhere other than the train. For example, did you, two days after a man was beaten to death in Forest Park on June 18, ask people in the park if they feel safe in the park? Did you check whether anyone is afraid to go to Poplar Bluff after a teen was doused with gas and set on fire on that same day?

Crime happens. It happens in hospitals. It happens in Forest Park. It happens in factories and offices. It happens in malls. It happens where people are, and public transit is unfortunately not the one place in our community that we can expect to be crime free. Certainly you have a responsibility to report about crime at or around public venues when you think it's appropriate, but apply the same yardstick to all businesses and all public venues.

Also on the subject of context, perhaps you have already viewed the St. Louis Police Department Crime Summary by Neighborhood in preparation for your story. I only did the math on a couple of neighborhoods through which MetroLink travels, but I'm sure your viewers will be impressed by the low percentages of crime on transit when compared with the communities the train passes through.

To emphasize her point Ms. Williams provided crime data for each neighborhood in the city. STLCrimebyNeighborhood2009[1].pdf

She also gave us a list of violent crimes that were more serious than the Metro stabbing.

Recent Violent Crime Stories
6/30 - Man shot to death in the 1600 block of Carr St.
6/27 - 16-year old shot in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood; later died
6/27 - Tot, 2-years old, killed by mother's boyfriend; near Hyde Park
6/27 - 28-year old man, drinking with strangers, was thrown off the Poplar Street Bridge into the river
6/26 - Two teens arrested for carjacking that led to the discovery of a dead man wrapped in a mat; East St. Louis
6/25 - Jefferson County prosecutor attacked following court verdict
6/25 - Four charged with first-degree assault at South County Center
6/23 - Shamario Williams was shot to death near his home in East St. Louis
6/23 - 17-year old charged with murder in shooting death of 31-year old; Mascoutah
6/22 - 18-year old shot in neck on 4500 block of Adelaide Ave.; later died
6/22 - Police arrest 12 in street brawl on 3600 block of North Garrison; several fights broke out in a crowd of about 300; teenage boy taken into custody who was believed to have fired shots
6/20 - 16-year old held in fatal shooting of 27-year old man at the 3700 block of Kosciusko Street
6/19 - Edrow Perkins, 36, found fatally shot to death in his vehicle in Caseyville
6/18 - Two children wounded in two separate shootings in East St. Louis
6/18 - Two women charged with beating man to death in Forest Park
6/18 - Teen doused with gasoline and set on fire by other teen in Poplar Bluff
6/17 - Teenager fatally shot during the weekend while pumping gas in East St. Louis is identified
6/16 - 18-year old fatally shot by passing car at the 3800 block of Kennerly

In a second e-mail Ms. Williams compared crime on Metro trains to crime in the entire city of St. Louis.

Of 2623 aggravated assault/battery crimes in St. Clair County in 2008, seven (7) occurred on MetroLink property.

A total of forty 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree and five domestic assaults happened on MetroLink property in 2008 in Missouri. During that same period St. Louis City reported 4345 aggravated assaults.

I told Ms. Williams what I'm telling you, that's just not a fair comparison. Clearly, there's violent crime on Metro trains, and it increased last year at a significant rate. It's also rare.

Metro could have told that story easily, and without the overkill.

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