Friday, October 15, 2010

Dangerous Data

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 5:47 PM

A certain magazine/website with an affinity for rankings has once again chosen Memphis for an unfortunate distinction, this time "most dangerous":

Memphis, Tenn., where gang crime has ramped up in recent years, takes the dubious honor of first place.

But to local law enforcement, the list itself seems, well, suspect.

"We're trying to figure out how they arrived at the conclusion that gang crime has ramped up," says MPD deputy chief Jim Harvey. "We don't know where they're getting that, because we don't know that ourselves."

In fact, MPD's data shows crime down more than 12 percent from this time last year and down about 29 percent since 2006.

Part 1 crimes include aggravated assaults, homicides, auto thefts, residential and non-residential burglaries, and larsony.
  • Part 1 crimes include aggravated assaults, homicides, auto thefts, residential and non-residential burglaries, and larsony.

"I don't understand how Memphis could be number one with the decreases in crime we've had," Harvey says.

Nationally, crime has dropped about five percent, and Harvey attributes Memphis' stats to the MPD's Blue Crush initiative.

"Back in the '80s, we had crime analysis at each precinct. It was a map on the wall with a plastic overlay and we put dots on the map by hand to see where crime was happening," Harvey says. "The problem with that was we couldn't see what was happening across borders into other precincts or into the county. We were looking at two weeks worth of dots on a map."

With Blue Crush, the police department looks at what crimes are happening, what day of the week they're happening, what time of day they're happening, and where.

The MPD has long explained that different law enforcement agencies and different cities report crime statistics differently. Chicago and Las Vegas weren't included at all because of a lack of data from those municipalities.

"Our reporting is honest," Harvey says. "We're not scrubbing reports. If we don't have a report, we don't have a dot on the map and we don't know where to put our officers."

Though incidents spike from month to month, the overall trend has been a decrease in violent crimes, according to MPD numbers.
  • Though incidents spike from month to month, the overall trend has been a decrease in violent crimes, according to MPD numbers.


"Memphis should be comparing Memphis against its own crime statistics," MPD director Larry Godwin said in a statement. "There are so many variations on how crimes are reported and on which crimes are reported that it is nearly impossible to compare one city’s crime stats against another. Are we doing a good job at addressing our crime problem? Yes. Can we do better? Absolutely, and you will see it in the coming year as we continue to partner with the community to reduce crime."

The department also expects crime numbers to continue decreasing with the addition of 1,500 tracking bracelets for repeat offenders and juveniles charged with a gun crime.

Forbes noted that the FBI warns against creating rankings based solely on its crime data because the numbers are individually reported by different agencies, but decided that combining crime data with that on traffic fatalities offered "a proxy for safety."

"That's like apples and oranges," Harvey says. "What do traffic fatalities have to do with crime? How is that useful to anybody?"

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