Monday, November 19, 2007

STL Rising: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

St. Louis crime rates are always a favorite topic around water coolers or for Town Talk callers. In recent years, a report published out of Kansas City places St. Louis at or near the top of national crime rates for cities.

This year, the methodology of the report is being called into question by both local criminologists as well as the FBI. They note that due to the tight city-not-in-a- county geograpy of St. Louis, comparing our stats to most other metro areas around the country is not a valid comparison.

For a true comparison, statisticians would need to include places like Brentwood, Clayton, Maplewood, and Creve Couer in with the city proper to see how we stack up to other regions. On such a region-region comparison, St. Louis drops from the near the top to out of the top 50 in terms of crime rates.

But figuring out how to do such an apples to apples comparison isn't as much fun for the Morgan Quintos of the media world. Thanks to our local criminology professors, news reporters, and the FBI for bringing out this important aspect to these statistics.


Hilary said...

Yes, but NPR (and I'm sure other media) had it's obligatory story about it this morning. Without questioning the methodology.

stlmark said...

I believe Compton and Newark are usually in the top 10, no? They don't say LA and New York, repectively. The comparison is based on municiple stats, not regional or metropolitan stats. This is as fair a comparison as any. They are simply saying with their methodology, STL is in the top 5. Take it at face value. I guess your argument is similar in the STD debate as well. If you include St. Clair, Madison, St. Louis, Jefferson and St. Charles counties, maybe our STD rate would be lower too. While you mention including the crime stats of the Creve Coeur's and Brentwoods, why not also consider the Bel-Nor's and Riverview Gardens'. These are suburbs with much worst crime than Brentwood and Creve Coeur. Also, our police dept is separate from the other municipalities. Why should we include the County in this stat? We don't include them in demographics, tax base or electorate.

I find it rather comical to watch people try to make excuses and put a spin on this. I even heard someone on KMOX say that cities like Memphis will not be on the list because they have annexed their suburbs, hence increasing their population. Gee, no kidding, maybe STL should consider that to get off this list. Until then, we're just another Compton, Newark or Camden when it comes to crime stats.

Rick Bonasch said...

I think the concern the critics of this report are raising is that ranking the crime stats of different municipalities is a meaningless comparison.

Damage is done when the comparison gives readers a false impression of an area's safety or crime problem. This then costs an area in terms of jobs, investment, tourism, you name it.

Unfortunately, given the unique geo-political boundary of our city proper, STL stats are highly skewed by this methodology. A more meaningful comparison would be to compare crime rates of different neighborhoods or census tracts.

To say that "x" neighborhood or census tract has a certain crime rate would be a relevant piece of information. If you were concerned about crime, then you'd know that a certain neighborhood or census tract had higher rates of crime.

However, to say that St. Louis is the second most dangerous city in the country completely fails to illustrate how, for example, our downtown is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city.

To illustrate the point further, as a follow up question might be, how safe is downtown St. Louis compared to say downtown Chicago, Memphis, or Seattle?

In answering the question, is it more important to know the crime rate of the total municipality or the downtown neighborhood? In fact, what does the rank by municipality have to do with it at all?

With modern technology available, it is highly feasible to map criminal activity by census tract or neighborhoods. Indeed, such a project would provide a useful public service to aid in targeting crime fighting efforts.

The Morgan Quinto crime list on the other hand is truly a meaningless exercise and seems to only serve one purpose: to sell books.

stlmark said...

Nice points. I agree with you on many levels. However, I prefer the approach of all for one and one for all when it comes to STL issues. I hate the North/South type divisions that make us forget that we're all one big family. When the city gets a black eye, we should all feel the hurt and want to fix it. Further compartmentalizing of our city will just further point the obvious finger at the few census tracts that have crazy levels of violent crime. Then it's easier to say, "see the SouthSide and Downtown and Midtown are cool, it's those damn Northsiders blowing our stats through the roof". I don't see that as a productive way to share blame.