CrimProf Blog

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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Thought Behind the Stats

With the release of the FBI's annual crime report came a list of the 10 Largest US Cities, ranked in order of safety, the safest (#1) to the most dangerous (#10):

  1. New York: one crime per 37.38 residents.
  2. San Jose, Calif.: one crime per 34.46 residents.
  3. Los Angeles: one crime per 25.97 residents.
  4. San Diego: one crime per 24.09 residents.
  5. Chicago: one crime per 21.9 residents.
  6. Philadelphia: one crime per 17.96 residents.
  7. Houston: one crime per 14.17 residents.
  8. San Antonio: one crime per 14.12 residents.
  9. Phoenix: one crime per 14.10 residents.
  10. Dallas: one crime per 11.79 residents.

Blue Bayou has a good point about city rankings of any sort.  [The FBI's statistics includes the following disclaimer]:

Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities--news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our Nation--use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.

"It goes on from there to discuss why these rankings are flawed. But people like lists, and so the list is there. But here's one obvious problem: what constitutes a city is different in different parts of the country. In Washington, the city ends at the boundaries of the District of Columbia, and doesn't include some intensely crime-ridden areas just outside. Or some incredibly safe areas. In Houston, the city stretches on for miles, including what would be remote suburbs on the east coast. In Dallas, the city itself is smaller--though the "metro area"--(I can't make myself use that horrifying word, "metroplex," though I will note that Dallas uses the name of a Transformer's character to describe itself...) is larger than Houston's, so I'd guess that it includes lots of poor and crime-ridden areas but relatively fewer safer areas." More. . . [Michele Berry]

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