ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The number of serious crimes committed in St. Louis and the surrounding St. Louis County dipped last year to levels unseen in more than four decades, according to new crime data released Wednesday.
Serious crime in the county dropped 2.4 percent last year compared to 2010, reaching the lowest level since 1971, county police said.
In the city of St. Louis, the crime rate dropped 5.9 percent. Police said the 31,811 total crimes were the fewest since the city had 30,826 in 1967. That's good news for a city that annually ranks high on lists of high-crime communities.
"Certainly looking at the numbers for 2011, there are things that tell us we are moving in the right direction," St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom said. "We had another positive year, but there is still much work to be done."
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley credited county Police Chief Tim Fitch, who has been chief since June 2009, and community outreach efforts in reducing crime in the county.
Crime rates have generally dropped during the past 15 years in many metropolitan areas around the country, said Beth Huebner, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Still, she said the city and county deserve credit for innovative thinking that is pushing crime numbers down. As an example, Huebner cited a program in St. Louis that sets high bail for young people accused of gun crimes.
"This is part of a larger trend, but we also see these cities -- and St. Louis in particular -- implementing some unique strategies to fight crime," she said.
St. Louis city and county are separate entities -- the city is not part of the county -- in fact, it is the only city in Missouri that is not part of any county. St. Louis city has a population of 319,000. The county has a population of about 1 million.
The drop in crime was most pronounced in some of the most prominent categories. In the city, homicides dropped 21.5 percent, to 113 from 144, marking the fewest number of killings since 2002. Vehicle thefts declined 21 percent, and arson was down 24.5 percent.
The county reported 17 homicides in 2011, matching the number in 2010. But reported rapes declined 10 percent, vehicle theft dropped by 20.7 percent, and arson was down 3.5 percent.
The one area of increase in the county was burglary, which was up 7.2 percent compared to 2010. Authorities said that was mostly due to the theft of scrap metal from vacant homes and buildings.
The city saw a minor increase in robberies, which totaled 2,127 -- just two more than in 2010 -- and a 4.6 percent rise in burglaries. But police said a special focus on burglaries during the second half of 2011 is paying dividends, with burglaries declining over the final four months of the year.