Dependable Erection

Monday, May 24, 2010

Interesting read

FBI crime statistics for 2009, data for most cities with populations over 100,000.

Particularly interesting to compare, say, Durham (population 227k) with Jersey City (population 240k), or Springfield MO (population 157k).

May challenge your assumptions.



  • My assumptions? Typical assumptions? :) Not sure what we're assuming here, but the Durham crime stats don't make me cower in my house with the doors locked. I look forward to these stats improving, but it's all relative... is someone looking at these from the point of view of growing up in a homogenous gated community? Or from a widely diverse (in every sense of the word) urban area? Makes a difference.

    By Blogger Valerie, at 4:15 PM  

  • Without looking at the numbers, rank the cities in descending order from highest property crime rate, to lowest property crime rate.

    Then do the same for violent crimes.

    Then check the numbers to see how you did.

    By Blogger Barry, at 4:20 PM  

  • And by cities, i mean just the three i singled out in the post.

    By Blogger Barry, at 4:21 PM  

  • Maybe I'm not a good case, since I did a master thesis on crime data, but I wasn't terribly surprised by anything here. I thought Springfield would be the leader in both, because I happened to know that Springfield, like the rest of MO, has a bit of a meth problem. Jersey City's property crime rate being that much lower was a little surprising given the reputation of the NYC area, but then again Jersey City is a bit of a cipher in that regard. I think a lot of people hear it and think "Newark," which is a very different city.

    I'm not sure why you picked those three cities in particular. My guess about property crime rates was that they were probably higher in college towns, and so I compared Durham to Ann Arbor and Berkley, and sure enough, both had moderately higher per capita property crime rates than Durham.

    This is all a very muddy picture. What point did you think it would make? Or am I running the wrong numbers? (that chart is kind of hard to read quickly.)

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 4:58 PM  

  • Picked those cities because the populations were reasonably close to Durham's.

    I definitely don't think of Newark when i think of Jersey City, but was still surprised to see the property crime rate there was only half of Durham's, while Springfield's was double.

    I also found it curious that all three cities had virtually identical violent crime rates, but disparate property crime rates. Haven't checked demographics on those cities yet, though.

    So, Ann Arbor and Berkeley are college towns, but Durham isn't? Wonder what Kevin would say about that? (I agree, btw.)

    By Blogger Barry, at 5:03 PM  

  • Okay, I did realize I mistyped the numbers for violent crime. The actual order is what I guessed.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 5:04 PM  

  • Um, no. Durham is a college town. Not an only college town, but I'd still call it one. The largest private employer in town is a university -- I'd say that's a pretty decent metric.

    Ann Arbor and Berkley are perhaps bad comparisons, because they're more dominated by their colleges. So trying to go for towns with more "elite university plus industrial city" combos, I compared Providence and New Haven. Very close property crime rates (46, 51, 56 prop crimes per 1k pop for Providence, Durham, and New Haven, respectively). I'm having trouble thinking of another comparable with an elite private university that is over 100k (scratch Princeton and Palo Alto) and isn't swamped by an obviously much larger city (ahem, Chicago, Boston, Philly, Baltimore).

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 5:18 PM  

  • There's a greater trend going on here, that I think may explain a lot of this. Oddly enough, property crimes in major cities appear to be significantly lower per capita than in smaller metro areas. Would you believe that Detroit, everyone's favorite stand in for "omg scary!" at the moment, as well as Washington and Baltiomre, both stand ins for murder capitals, both have lower property crime rates than Wilmington, NC? Jersey City's rates are obviously going to be a bit influenced by one of its neighboring municipalities, so I wonder if there's a broader effect there.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 5:24 PM  

  • New Haven's the closest comparison i can think of as well, with the caveat that there's far less interconnect between Yale and NH than there is between Duke and Durham, at least in my experience.

    By Blogger Barry, at 5:28 PM  

  • The snarky answer is that there's no more property left in Detroit to steal, but i don't think that's the answer.

    One partial explanations is that violent crime is still somewhat more likely to occur between people who know each other, whereas property crime, i think, is still a bit more random.

    Wonder what the impact of auto thefts being down across the board is on the crime rates of larger vs smaller cities? I think the general assumption that most people make is that smaller urbs are safer than larger, which i think is not necessarily borne out by the numbers.

    I wasn't trying to, nor do i think i did, draw any conclusions from the numbers other than that i was surprised by some of them.

    By Blogger Barry, at 5:36 PM  

  • Census data is of course as out of date as it could possibly be, while we wait for the 2010 numbers to come in, but as of the last census, Jersey City had the highest poverty rate of the 3 cities, at 18.6%; Springfield followed at 15.9%, and Durham at 15%.

    Springfield had far and away the lowest median household income at $29K; Durham at $14K was a little higher than Jersey City at $37K. Durham and Jersey City both had much higher median home values at around $125K than did Springfield at just under $80K. Springfield also had lowest percentage of African Americans at 3%; Jersey City much more ethnically diverse than either of the other two with no ethnic group above 34% of the population.

    Definitely interesting reading.

    By Blogger Barry, at 6:42 PM  

  • Ah, I was just looking at murder & rape. Yes, I suppose Jersey City having lower property crime rates does go against my assumptions.

    I would not call Durham a college town any more than I would call, say, El Paso a college town.

    Wow, look at those El Paso murder rates.

    I dunno, I might question rates of reporting. And just so many other variables.

    By Blogger Valerie, at 9:22 PM  

  • Valerie has a point.

    I remember hearing people wail that Durham's crime rate was as high as that of Los Angeles. Well, I lived in Los Angeles and out there people often don't bother to report crime because the police don't respond unless blood is flowing.

    The apartment where I first lived had a secure parking garage and one night the gate wasn't secured and every car in the garage was broken in to and one was stolen. The police didn't come out. You could call and file a report for insurance purposes but that was all.

    I always FELT safer in Durham than in Los Angeles.

    Statistics lie.

    By Blogger Diana, at 7:29 AM  

  • I disagree with the notion that "statistics lie." Rather, i think their meaning is subject to negotiation.

    For example, i agree that, for me at least, Durham feels safer than the towns i lived in in California. That's because every damn place i lived there, my car was broken into, including once at my daughter's school parking lot, and once in the parking lot of Home Depot. I also had my home broken into twice.

    In 17 years in Durham, neither has happened.

    However, it would be a mistake to conclude from that that Durham is in fact safer. We don't know, to use your example, whether or not the number or percentage of unreported crimes is higher or lower in Durham or California. We don't know, to use another variable, whether or not ethnicity or race is correlated with the crime statistics for either region.

    I would have said, before looking at these raw numbers, that the Midwest was a lower crime area than the Southeast, which in turn had less crime than the Northeast.

    Yet, according to these numbers, violent crime rates are nearly the same in 3 almost randomly selected medium sized cities in the 3 different regions, while property crime rates reflect the exact opposite numbers than my pre-conceived notions. By a wide margin.

    I found that interesting. Never tried to claim that Durham was more or less safe than anyone thinks it is.

    On the other hand, i can state emphatically that, with regards to certain quality of life issues, Durham lags far behind other cities that i've visited or lived in. Pedestrian safety and neighborhood speeding are two of my key concerns. I have always enjoyed walking through the neighborhood where i live, and prefer walking to other modes of transportation whenever possible. There is no comparison between the "feeling" of safety (or more precisely, the lack thereof) in Durham when i'm walking, and any other place i've ever lived or visited. And this includes Boston, New York, or Chicago. And yet, our city leaders constantly tell us that they lack the resources to enforce speed limits and pedestrian safety laws, because those resources are busy being used to fight more serious crimes.

    But if Durham doesn't have any greater proportion of more serious crimes than other cities, why should that be the case? If you fail to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk in San Francisco, you will, as often as not, get a traffic ticket. Is crime in San Francisco so much lower than in Durham that the police have more free time on their hand to write these tickets, or is it a policy preference in SF to provide a safer environment for pedestrians?

    I think it's the latter.

    And if we're all correct, that Durham is not in fact more crime ridden than other comparable cities with similarly sized police departments (check the numbers - Durham's police/population ratio is well within the normal range), there really is no excuse to not enforce these laws.

    By Blogger Barry, at 10:14 AM  

  • The biggest complaint among criminologists about UCR reports is that, yes, they rely on report data. If the general take is that the police are doing nothing about crime, then reporting rates drop way off, and you can see a "decline" in crime rates. Also, in areas with large illegal immigrant populations, both legal and illegal Latino immigrants are less likely to contact the police, either out of fear of deportation or fear of just getting harassed.

    They're still a good thumbnail, though. At the very least, they're the best we have.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 4:47 PM  

  • I have spent a fair amount of time in North Jersey (including Jersey City) and the five boroughs of NYC, and I can interpret the difference in property crimes to an overall 'crime-prevention savviness.' In other words, people in JC or NYC don't leave their house or car unlocked. They don't leave their GPS unit in the window of their car, or their power tools on their porch. They don't leave their bikes parked on the street with a flimsy lock. People have Medeco locks on their doors. Not a big deal, just common sense, making yourself a 'hard' target. Everybody does it, and there's not that much property crime.

    In Durham, on the other hand, I often read in the neighborhood listservs about about people leaving their car doors unlocked, GPS units in the window, bags of stuff in the back seat, and then are outraged when someone comes along and perpetrates a crime of opportunity. Or when someone cuts their flimsy bike lock. Or when someone busts the DIY HomeDepot lock on their side door or shed.
    Which makes my blood boil a little, because it means that ne'er-do-wells will continue to troll our neighborhoods for these easy targets, which makes us all less secure.

    So is JC safer than Durham? I would certainly say not, but property is a lot harder to steal there.... (full disclosure: my car was recently stolen in Durham, even with no GPS unit or stuff in the back seat. And the Durham Police recovered it almost unharmed in record time).

    By Blogger eah919, at 6:14 PM  

  • Regarding the 'skew' these numbers take due to reporting error, I can offer the following anecdotes:

    1) A few years back, in New York, someone went into my mail and snagged a new department store credit card, then attempted to use it. Store security called me, cops were called, etc etc. Cops in that precinct (Midtown) refused to file it their, telling me I had to bring it up with my local precinct (Brooklyn), which made no sense. Then, after very long runaround, the Sgt. at my local precinct told me, with a straight face, that it was "not a crime unless they actually succeeded in buying something with the stolen credit card." By then, I realized that everyone involved was simply trying to keep that crime off their books, a result of the Giuliani-era computerized precinct-by-precinct "accountability" perverting the incentives of the local cops.

    2). In a similar vein, after getting mugged on my block (also in New York), the responding cops told me the gun the thug used "was probably just a toy", intimating it was really no big deal, and I probably didn't need to report it, or at the very least was just a simple robbery and not gun-related.

    To my brain, this makes these kinds of comparisons, across cities with different cultures, crime 'savviness', and PD reporting methodology, somewhat suspect, FWIW....

    By Blogger eah919, at 6:51 PM  

  • A few years back, i got a credit card statement with an $1800 computer purchase from Dell on it.

    The computer had just shipped, but obviously not to me. I had my suspicions as to where the thief had acquired my cc number.

    Since i had a delivery address, which was in Raleigh, i notified the Raleigh authorities about the fraud/theft. They didn't want to hear about it, and refereed me to Durham PD, who assured me that no crime had been committed in their jurisdiction. Credit card company was very nice and canceled the charge.

    No idea if Dell ever got their computer back, the cc company their money, or the thief what he deserved.

    Never did business with the folks who i suspected of having lifted my number again.

    By Blogger Barry, at 7:08 PM  

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