ST. LOUIS - The same scenes play out time and again for St. Louis police Lt. Scott Aubuchon's homicide detectives when they arrive to investigate another death in the city: yellow police tape, the wails of family and evidence technicians scouring for bullet casings.
Aubuchon's team is struggling to keep up as the city contends with a homicide rate that, by year's end, likely will be the worst in at least a half-century.
The number of killings soared over the summer as detectives were called to 114 homicides in June, July and August. There were 53 people killed in the city in July alone.
"Since June 1, our numbers began to rise at the alarming rate," said Aubuchon, the homicide unit's commander since 2018. "We've never seen anything like the last three months. These are indescribable times."
The same can be said for the year.
The shooting death Sept. 14 of a 15-year-old girl in the Riverview neighborhood was the 194th homicide of the year, matching the city's total for all of 2019. That number has since been surpassed. If the pace of killings continues, St. Louis will reach an ignoble milestone. Over the past decade, the city has averaged 50 homicides in the last four months of the year, according to police statistics. If that holds true, St. Louis will see about 240 homicides in 2020, the highest in 25 years.
The highest number of killings in a single year in St. Louis was 267 in 1993, when the city had some 387,000 residents. That means the homicide rate - homicides per 100,000 people - was 69 that year. But the population of St. Louis has continued to dwindle over the decades, settling now at just over 300,000. The result this year is a homicide rate that's projected to be 79, a startling number that appears to exceed the rate for any other large U.S. city.
The homicide rate matters when determining whether one city is more dangerous than another, or whether a particular city is getting more dangerous from year to year, criminologists say.
Another city with a similar number of people, Cincinnati, had a homicide rate last year of 24, its highest in about a dozen years. Pittsburgh, which also has virtually the same population as St. Louis, had a rate of 12 in 2019, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting statistics.
Baltimore saw a stunning 348 killings last year, but with a population about double that of St. Louis, Baltimore's homicide rate was 58.