Crime Falls and It Actually Makes the Newspaper

I have blogged repeatedly about the propensity of the media to distort official crime reports to make it appear as if things are getting inexorably worse. (You can see past examples here, here, and here.) Crime has more or less been treading water in the United States over the last few years, although you would never know it from the media.

About six months ago, I took a quick look at the data and saw that 2007 homicide rates were going to be way down in large U.S. cities. The major newspapers are finally starting to report these encouraging numbers, as Alexander Belenky‘s interesting blog at the U.K. Guardian points out.

Last month, Al Baker at the Times noted that homicide is down, and that only 35 of the city’s homicides were committed by strangers. Meanwhile, Chicago’s murder rate is down 7 percent.

But here is my favorite:

Two weeks ago, I blogged about an article bemoaning the L.A. gang problem. I noted in my blog post that it didn’t sound right to me that gang problems were worse than ever in L.A. This conclusion was merely informed speculation on my part.

Last week, that speculation was confirmed when the Los Angeles Daily News reported that L.A. is on track to have its lowest homicide rate since 1970, with the greatest declines occurring in gang-related murders.


Joel

By reading the NY Times and it's editorials you'd think that criminals everywhere have scary guns and you aren't safe anywhere in the wholesale slaughter across the nation.

Glad to see some mainstream reporters have kept their heads about this and put together cogent articles about crime.

Kory

oddTodd,

I wonder what is the definition of "solved". Does that mean the suspect was prosecuted? Does it mean the suspect was convicted? Perhaps there are a lot of unsolved crimes where suspects could not be charged for lack of evidence or could not be convicted in court. In this case stranger vs. aquaintance doesn't seem to have much relevence.

Also, murder by stranger is not the same as murder by non-relative.

Justin James

oddTodd -

Yes, the majority of "random" (in other words, commited by a stranger) homicides go unsolved. Indeed, much (possibly a majority) of drug/gang violence goes unsolved as well, due to the fact that no one involved (as well as many witnesses) will talk to the police, or cares about the victim. A really great book that provides a ton of insight to this is "Homecide: A Year on the Killing Streets of Baltimore" (I beleive I am remembering the title correctly, it is a rather famous book that inspired the TV series "Homicide", where the Det. Munch character [now on Law & Order: SVU] originated, little tidbit of trivia).

In a nutshell, the killer is either the spouse/lover/boyfriend/girlfriend, close family member, or co-worker, or the case will go unsolved except for a lucky break, such as fingerprints/DNA from someone already on file.

J.Ja

Rob

Maybe I'm way too cynical, but it seems to me that reports of rising homicide rates appeal to two large segments of our population:

1. The NRA and other gun ownership rights groups. Rising homicide rates (real or imagined) seem to give them ammunition (sorry) for the "a gun for every man, woman, and child" argument. This may fall under the guise of "hey, it can't get any worse."
2. Gun control advocates point to the homicide rates and demand tighter restrictions on gun sales, ownership, concealed carry, etc.

If rising homicide rates are good news for so many people, why not report (or even exaggerate) the statistics? Sells newspapers, right?

oddTodd

I can't tell if the follow-up comments to my post were agreeing with me or not. To clarify what I am saying, let's say there were 500 murders in NYC this year. The original post quotes a claim of 35 committed by strangers. Now, in fact nobody but the killer may know who committed 200 of those 500 murders, so what the police are saying is 35 of the 300 "solved" murders were committed by strangers. It's not reasonable to extrapolate that to the entire 500. It may be that the police are really good at catching murderers who knew the victim, in which case it may be 235 of the 500 murders were actually committed by strangers. On the other hand, as Justin points out, some of those 200 may be cases where no witnesses are willing to come forward. What I'm saying is, since in a large share of homicide cases, the authorities never figure out who did it, it is disingenuous to claim a certain low percentage of murders are committed by strangers in order to make people feel safer, if that indeed is the point in identifying that number.

Read more...

LL

Yay abortions!

misterb

Well, the good news doesn't seem to have reached San Jose. See here:

http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_7842785?nclick_check=1

San Jose's situation may be unique because of the specific personalities involved here. And I think that in fact certain individuals can make for one person crime waves. I think that reduced Mob activity dropped murder rates in NY in the 1990's and eliminating the "Cocaine Cowboys" similarly dropped rates in Miami. Most murder is committed willfully by specific humans, and some evil people can kill enough to influence local statistics.

Curt

Yesterday in Boise, ID I watched two separate TV news reports on different channels discussing the New Years stats for DUIs (Drunk Driving). One report noted the record low 14 DUIs, while the other reported a great success of 20 DUIs (expanded region to include more arrests). In both cases the reporters mentioned that there was an increased number of officers patrolling that night; undoubtedly at a maximum temporary labor & equipment budget.

Do you think police really want DUI arrests to go down? Wouldn't that cut into holiday budget overrides? And overtime/holiday pay for officers? Plus all the residual business around arrests like lawyers, courts, bail bondsmen, etc..

oddTodd

I'm always skeptical of claims that X% of murders are committed by acquaintances vs. strangers, considering the large Y% of murders that go unsolved. Doesn't it seem likely that murders committed by strangers are more likely to remain unsolved? I would think that if I were to randomly shoot a stranger in the street one night, it would be unlikely that the cops would come knocking on my door asking questions. Why would they? But if my wife were to get shot, I'd be the first person they talked to.

Jim Ryan

Curt--I agree. But we can all prevent being victimized through this system by driving with zero blood alcohol. In many parts of Europe partiers stop drinking at 10:00PM so as not to have any blood alcohol during the morning drive to work the next day.

Joel

By reading the NY Times and it's editorials you'd think that criminals everywhere have scary guns and you aren't safe anywhere in the wholesale slaughter across the nation.

Glad to see some mainstream reporters have kept their heads about this and put together cogent articles about crime.

Kory

oddTodd,

I wonder what is the definition of "solved". Does that mean the suspect was prosecuted? Does it mean the suspect was convicted? Perhaps there are a lot of unsolved crimes where suspects could not be charged for lack of evidence or could not be convicted in court. In this case stranger vs. aquaintance doesn't seem to have much relevence.

Also, murder by stranger is not the same as murder by non-relative.

Justin James

oddTodd -

Yes, the majority of "random" (in other words, commited by a stranger) homicides go unsolved. Indeed, much (possibly a majority) of drug/gang violence goes unsolved as well, due to the fact that no one involved (as well as many witnesses) will talk to the police, or cares about the victim. A really great book that provides a ton of insight to this is "Homecide: A Year on the Killing Streets of Baltimore" (I beleive I am remembering the title correctly, it is a rather famous book that inspired the TV series "Homicide", where the Det. Munch character [now on Law & Order: SVU] originated, little tidbit of trivia).

In a nutshell, the killer is either the spouse/lover/boyfriend/girlfriend, close family member, or co-worker, or the case will go unsolved except for a lucky break, such as fingerprints/DNA from someone already on file.

J.Ja

Rob

Maybe I'm way too cynical, but it seems to me that reports of rising homicide rates appeal to two large segments of our population:

1. The NRA and other gun ownership rights groups. Rising homicide rates (real or imagined) seem to give them ammunition (sorry) for the "a gun for every man, woman, and child" argument. This may fall under the guise of "hey, it can't get any worse."
2. Gun control advocates point to the homicide rates and demand tighter restrictions on gun sales, ownership, concealed carry, etc.

If rising homicide rates are good news for so many people, why not report (or even exaggerate) the statistics? Sells newspapers, right?

oddTodd

I can't tell if the follow-up comments to my post were agreeing with me or not. To clarify what I am saying, let's say there were 500 murders in NYC this year. The original post quotes a claim of 35 committed by strangers. Now, in fact nobody but the killer may know who committed 200 of those 500 murders, so what the police are saying is 35 of the 300 "solved" murders were committed by strangers. It's not reasonable to extrapolate that to the entire 500. It may be that the police are really good at catching murderers who knew the victim, in which case it may be 235 of the 500 murders were actually committed by strangers. On the other hand, as Justin points out, some of those 200 may be cases where no witnesses are willing to come forward. What I'm saying is, since in a large share of homicide cases, the authorities never figure out who did it, it is disingenuous to claim a certain low percentage of murders are committed by strangers in order to make people feel safer, if that indeed is the point in identifying that number.

Read more...

LL

Yay abortions!

misterb

Well, the good news doesn't seem to have reached San Jose. See here:

http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_7842785?nclick_check=1

San Jose's situation may be unique because of the specific personalities involved here. And I think that in fact certain individuals can make for one person crime waves. I think that reduced Mob activity dropped murder rates in NY in the 1990's and eliminating the "Cocaine Cowboys" similarly dropped rates in Miami. Most murder is committed willfully by specific humans, and some evil people can kill enough to influence local statistics.

Curt

Yesterday in Boise, ID I watched two separate TV news reports on different channels discussing the New Years stats for DUIs (Drunk Driving). One report noted the record low 14 DUIs, while the other reported a great success of 20 DUIs (expanded region to include more arrests). In both cases the reporters mentioned that there was an increased number of officers patrolling that night; undoubtedly at a maximum temporary labor & equipment budget.

Do you think police really want DUI arrests to go down? Wouldn't that cut into holiday budget overrides? And overtime/holiday pay for officers? Plus all the residual business around arrests like lawyers, courts, bail bondsmen, etc..

oddTodd

I'm always skeptical of claims that X% of murders are committed by acquaintances vs. strangers, considering the large Y% of murders that go unsolved. Doesn't it seem likely that murders committed by strangers are more likely to remain unsolved? I would think that if I were to randomly shoot a stranger in the street one night, it would be unlikely that the cops would come knocking on my door asking questions. Why would they? But if my wife were to get shot, I'd be the first person they talked to.

Jim Ryan

Curt--I agree. But we can all prevent being victimized through this system by driving with zero blood alcohol. In many parts of Europe partiers stop drinking at 10:00PM so as not to have any blood alcohol during the morning drive to work the next day.