Monday, August 3, 2009

Perception of crime?

Via Decatur Metro, an interesting article from the NY Times on a national drop in crime, despite the recession. The basic gist of the article is "we have no freaking clue what to do." We simply don't know enough about what works and what doesn't. Further, our perception can truly be different from reality:
Along with its report, The Third Way released a poll showing that by a 5-to-1 ratio, Americans believed crime was worse than it had been the year before. By year’s end, though, the national crime data showed a decrease. In Atlanta, where crime is down 10 percent, a recent series of high-profile incidents has spurred critics to hammer the mayor over what they call a crisis.
At least it isn't just Atlantans who suffer from a perception problem. Still, the idea that crime is actually down is hard to believe given the reports about people getting shot and mugged all the time, even after giving up the keys to the car. I happen to know the fellow in that last incident, although we aren't close. I know Paulie via my writing on the Atlanta Metblog, who is now a two-time property crime victim in East Atlanta. Reading the incident reports from my neighborhood organization doesn't help, either.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly (or probably even in passing) knows that crime is one of the issues I'm most concerned about in the city. It is something that I've been writing about long before police officers were furloughed. I've been hearing about an increase in crime since 2005/2006, when folks started blaming Katrina refugees. I'm not endorsing that idea, btw, it is just when I started hearing people perceive a crime increase.

Despite this, I really dislike basing policy ideas on sensational news stories or anecdotes. It would be reallllly easy to pile on the mayor and the police chief. For the moment, I'm going to avoid that. I have some time off between classes, so for the next few days I'm going to do some digging into the police department's crime data to see what I can find. At first glance, crime this year does indeed seem to be down. (If you want to follow along, I'm looking at the data from January - April, yearly comparisons.)
  • Rape is up 5% (from 44 to 46 cases)
  • Non-residential burglaries are up 12%
  • Every other category is static or down. Robberies are down 23%.
It also appears that the number of cases solved is up.
  • APD has "cleared by arrest" 60% more burglaries, from 273 to 437
  • To compare, last year APD have arrested folks in 50.8% of burglary case, and this year in 79.5% of burglary cases
  • APD has cleared 300 more aggregated assault cases this year, an increase of 52% over last year's amount.
Sure, I could pull the "you can't trust the police's own data" line. Maybe I'm misreading the crime data. I'm not really sure what else to do, though, other than trust the data. I'll be doing some digging into the zone-by-zone data, as well as trying to pull data for multiple years. Hopefully something useful will come of it.

UPDATE: I should link to Atlanta Unfiltered's post about how certain types of crime are up in some neighborhoods. Excellent post, and it begins to look at the sort of data dissecting I will be doing.

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