New Analysis of Big-City Crime Statistics

Scare Headlines Exaggerated The U.S. Crime Wave.” Or so argues an article published Friday at FiveThirtyEight—the data-heavy news outlet founded by political-prediction wunderkind Nate Silver.

In the article, Carl Bialik describes the results of examining the 2015 homicide data for 59 of the 60 biggest cities. He observes that, although there has been an overall increase of 16% in big-city homicides this year, “the picture varies a lot by city: Homicides are up 76 percent in Milwaukee, but down 43 percent in Boston. They’re also down in 19 other cities.” Moreover, the increase “doesn’t come close to reversing the long-term decline in homicides.”

Bialik goes on to explain that homicide rates regularly fluctuate, so we shouldn’t assume—as many media outlets have suggested—that a one-year murder spike in some big cities means a crime wave is afoot.

It was interesting to see the way this affects on-the-ground police work:

[Milwaukee police Chief Edward] Flynn is frustrated with the data disconnect faced by big-city police departments. Many of them employ data analysts and track their stats in real time — Flynn has 16 analysts, up from zero when he took over the department in 2008, and he rattled off his city’s crime stats from memory. Yet he and his peers must rely on informal exchanges and potentially skewed media reports to find out what crime trends those in other big departments are seeing.

Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, added the following:

You look at economic data, at labor data, at all kinds of data the government collects that is immediately available. …. We don’t have anything like that in policing.

The article thus ends with a call for local governments to share more crime data with each other, but also an acknowledgement of the difficulties of doing so. Seems like a worthy objective.

In the meantime, the words of the Avett Brothers:

If I get murdered in the city
Don’t go revenging in my name
One person dead from such is plenty
No need to go get locked away

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