Saturday, November 04, 2006

Crime Story

Crime stats can be used in various ways to describe the quality of life in your community. Sometimes these stats can be misleading without a proper perspective. In this post I will try to provide you with such a perspective.

Morgan Quitno came out this week with a list of the safest cities in the USA. Quitno produces this list of the safest and least safe cities with populations over 75,000 after the FBI publishes the latest annual Uniform Crime Report (2005 UCR).

Brick, NJ (actually a Town, not a City) was listed as the safest with a violent Part I index crime rate (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) of 55.9 per 100,000 population and St. Louis, Missouri, being the least safe with a violent Part I index crime rate of 2,405.5 per 100,000.

You can look at the national crime states for your state/town or city at the aforementioned link, or go here and download the entire file as an excel spreadsheet.

The FBI publishes crime stats for almost 8,200 jurisdictions. Quitno only uses about 380 of them in their comparative city listings (those being over 75,000 population). All told, there are 1,485 jurisdictions with a lower violent crime rate than Brick Township. The smallest jurisdiction (Teterboro, NJ) has a population of only 18. There were no reported violent felonies in Teterboro but there were 2 burglaries, 7 larcenies and 8 stolen cars. Huh? There are only 18 people in Teterboro. Someone must have stolen every car they owned! Twice!

And the least safe jurisdiction in the USA? It is Vernon, California (pop. 94) where police reported 28 robberies and 20 aggravated assaults last year for a violent crime rate of over 51,000 per 100,000 population. Either the crime reporting out of Vernon is all screwed up or there are two bars in town where every one gets the crap kicked out of them and robbed every Friday night. Twice.

But these listings leave out property crimes from the total "serious" Part I crime picture. Once you add burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft the crime listings change somewhat. There are 91 jurisdictions that reported no Part I crimes at all during 2005. The largest of these is Kingwood, West Virginia, population of 2,916.

If we use Quitno's criteria of safest cities over 75,000 population, the most crime free community is.... in New York. The Town of Ramapo (pop. 74,388 - okay I cheated a wee bit, it was short by 622 people) had a total of 749 Part I crimes for a total Part I crime rate of 1,006.9 per 100,000.

Looking at the jurisdictions with the highest rate of total Part I crimes brings us back to California. It's good old VERNON! Population of 94 wicked souls! They had 52 burglaries, 260 larcenies and 232 motor vehicle thefts! Crikey! Everyone here must cover themselves with $20 bills and then fall asleep in their cars in front of the town's two bars with the engine running and the car doors wide open. Their total Part I crime rate is 629,782.2 per 100,000!

The lesson here is that some statistical measures do not fit every situation.

Using total Part I crimes in the same format as Quitno, the safest, most crime free city in the USA (population over 75,000 and lowest total incidence of Part I crimes) is Lake Forest, California (Pop. 77,523) with a Part I crime rate of 1,408.6 per 100,000. The most crime ridden city in the USA is .... again St. Louis, Missouri (pop. 346,005) with a Part I crime rate of 13,458.8 per 100,000. That is an incredible victimization rate. It is five times higher than New York City's rate(2,675.5 per 100,000) and almost double that of Houston, TX.

There is something else misleading about these statistics. You are only seeing what are known as Part I crimes. Part I crimes are murder (and nonnegligent manslaughter), forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft. Arson was added in 1986. No mention is made of Part II crimes. Except for drug offenses, Part II crimes do not usually show up in the evening news.

Quite simply, Part II crimes are everything else:
Simple Assaults
Forgery and Counterfeiting
Stolen Property Offenses
Weapons Offenses
Prostitution and Commercialized Vice
Sex Offenses (except rape and prostitution)
Drug Abuse Violations
Offenses Against the Family and Children
Driving Under the Influence
Liquor Laws
Disorderly Conduct
All Other Offenses (except traffic)
Curfew and Loitering Laws (Juveniles only)
Runaways (Juveniles only)

The Part II crimes are often used as an indicator for the quality of life in a community. Just because no one is shot to death or no one breaks into your house doesn't mean that everything is hunky dory in YourTown, USA.

There is another problem with the FBI Uniform Crime Report. The entire state of Illinois is under reported. The reason for this is simple; Illinois has refused to comply with federal crime reporting standards for forcible rape. Illinois reports "criminal sexual assault" instead of forcible rape so the feds do not include it in the national stats for violent felonies. In addition, the State of Illinois only has seven jurisdictions reporting crime stats to the FBI. These jurisdictions are Aurora (pop. 167,266), Chicago (pop. 2,873,441), Joliet (pop. 130,026), Naperville (pop. 140,654), Peoria (pop. 113,161), Rockford (pop. 153,048) and Springfield (pop. 115,187). The 2000 US census lists Illinois as having over 12 million people living in 102 counties! To get an idea what is happening in Illinois you should go to their State's UCR web site.

Please don't get me wrong. The State of Illinois is not trying to hide anything. They compile a very comprehensive report on crime. It's because of the difference in the way they classify their forcible rape crimes that makes their stats incompatible with the rest of the nation. But I am rather mystified why only seven Illinois cities are reported in the UCR. The FBI does not provide much information either. All they say is this "Limited data for 2005 were available for Illinois." It could be that Illinois also has a different timetable for agencies to report their crime stats. Going back to 1995 (page 148) I see that Illinois only had four cities providing the UCR to the FBI. I guess they're getting better about it.

My whole reason for this is simple.

Don't believe everything you read on the internet or hear on the news.

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