The Next Batch of Crime Statistics Won’t Be Much Fun For the Media

Crime trends have been mixed in the last few years, with some crimes increasing (mostly involving violence) and others declining (the majority of property crimes). In spite of the facts, I’ve noted in the past how the media has systematically distorted the reporting of crime statistics to create the impression that crime is spiraling out of control.

If the 2007 patterns observed so far in the largest U.S. cities are any indication, the alarmist media is going to have to work hard to find a way to spin this round of crime statistics into doom and gloom. Of the ten most populous cities, I was able to locate year-to-date crime data for five of them.

New York City reports a 13% decline in homicide, an 11% fall in robbery, and a 7.5% reduction in burglary this year. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his crew are having a good year as well: homicide is down 20%, robbery 6%, and burglary 2%. The numbers in Chicago are not quite as good: the murder rate is flat, with robbery down 7% and burglary down 2%.

Crime is also down across the board in San Diego, although I do not have exact percentages because the data for 2006 and 2007 were displayed in slightly different forms.

Of the five cities I examined, the only one that partially bucks the trend is Phoenix, which has seen a decline in homicide, but increases in both robbery and burglary.

Will an inventive media be able to use these crime data to scare people into thinking crime is getting worse? Most likely, yes. Never underestimate the creativity of journalists. Indeed, The Economist has already gotten a jump on the rest with an article describing Phoenix as a “crime-ridden mess.”


Full RSS feeds please.


i'm not reading this blog any more till you publish the full feed.

Ed from Phoenix

The economist article says (accurately): "Burglary, theft and car crime are among the highest in the country".
Phoenix's murder rate is about 15 per 100,000.

Traffic deaths are also among the highest in the country, picking off another ~ 20 per 100,000 (Arizona) -- that number does NOT include a huge spike in fatals in 2006.


I don't get why people think they're entitled to get a blog via full RSS feed. The New York Times is paying these two gentlemen to write this (wonderful) blog. Why should they give the blog entries (which they paid for) away for free?

Is it really so painful to have to visit the blog and read it there?

Steve Place

If you want to find an outlier, look up Orlando. Last year had a rash of murders and other violent crimes. If you lived there you would know-- I always wanted to murder someone when I was driving in the city (try finding correlation between crime rate and commute time for different income classes).

Mitch from Baltimore

With my city's homicide rate I'll be lucky to be alive long enough to finish typing this po...


Old adage in news: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

(I'll bet the crime stats show an overall increase if you include stolen RSS feeds...)


I am not sure about other places, but the crime statistics for Columbus, OH show that crime is rising faster in the suburbs (while still at a lower rate than in the city), which is undoubtedly contributing to perceptions of "crime spiraling out of control."

Jeff Licquia

"I don't get why people think they're entitled to get a blog via full RSS feed."

Because we had it before, maybe?

Getting paid is supposed to result in a better, not a worse, product.

"The New York Times is paying these two gentlemen to write this (wonderful) blog. Why should they give the blog entries (which they paid for) away for free?"

Who said anything about getting something for free? Instapundit puts ads in his feeds. Why can't the Times?

"Is it really so painful to have to visit the blog and read it there?"

If you have lots of feeds, yes it is.

I'm giving Freakonomics a grace period to fix the problem, knowing how transitions can be difficult. But if this is the new feed policy, I'll let other blogs tell me when there's something interesting going on here.


Oakland is at 83 homicides for 415,000 people. I think we're keeping up with last year's count. It's not good


If you're an EMS worker homicide scenes pale in comparison to car crash scenes. Since someone here used 9/11 as a measure, I'd like to add also by comparison the more than 260,000 persons (otherwise healthy persons) killed in cars in the US since that day. But homicidal drivers are not figured into the homicide equation. They should be, and then the media would have its numbers.

On the world stage the numbers are staggering (1.2 million annually!) According to the WHO it's the leading cause of death among young persons: annually, over 400,000 (under the age of 25) are killed in cars. People who die in car crashes die very violent deaths. I'm glad that Tony Blair (and even the Vatican) have spoken up about this senseless slaughter. but will it sustain the media's attention?


Recently the Chief of Police in San Diego was exposed by the media for misstating crime stats, so it comes as no surprise that the formats are such that you cannot compare years. It's inconvenient to make it easy for the public and the media to understand what's really going on.

Cops have told me directly that stats are notoriously manipulated in a variety of ways. Some include simply redefining one crime into another category. Another issue is what officers take the time to report and in the case of San Diego, the coverage on night shifts is so understaffed that they don't take the time to do arrests they might have if they had the staffing. They only deal with the stuff they absolutely have to - and with response times even for emergencies rising into the double digits, many calls for help don't get answered during busy shifts.

Do I think San Diego is any more or less dangerous? I only know I wouldn't rely on crime stats to tell me.

What we can count on, and what I learned in doing a number of ride-alongs - is that stupid behavior - usually involving abuse of alcohol - is the #1 contributing factor in most "routine" crimes.....and that the number of true victims of heinous crimes - the kinds that leave innocent bodies behind - is still mercifully small.



Can Dubner or Levitt please post a real post regarding the change of the RSS feed policy? Please?


What's the word on the full RSS feeds? Note, I haven't read your article, and Firefox Adblocker Plus is blocking all ads.

So what's the point in this?

Please go BACK to your own Wordpress blog on your own site and give us back RSS.

- a former registered commenter from your GOOD RSS equiped blog.


I think it is a little unfair to suggest the Economist is distorting the crime stats. Their article was a much more general one about the city and did not mention a one-year change in crime statistics at all.

as they said 80% of Media and history are always dominated by right wing people.

William P Mullins

Am I the only one troubled by a professional economist trafficking in the analysis of systems from a single data point? Commenting on one year differences without a context is just plain wrong. Why do it I wonder?


The homicide rate is down because more people survive the shootings because of faster response time by ambulances and better medicine at emergency rooms. The stats should be how many shootings.


So you guys moved and are suddenly credible. Sweet sight


Why does this article not mention white collar and corporate crime and official misconduct by government officials? Where are the stats on those?