No, Crime Statistics Are Statistics, Not Facts
Not to beat a dead horse here, but I disagree with Dave’s impression of the crime statistics in St. Louis.
Dave has probably never been to Compton, Calif. Neither have I, for that matter, and I believe most sensible people haven’t. You can not honestly tell me that St. Louis is a more dangerous place to live, I’m sorry.
I believe that the St. Louis data might be skewed and there are a couple of reasons why. For example, Dave might remember a few weeks ago when the Post-Dispatch reported that the Illinois side of the river is more dangerous than the Missouri side (according to Illinois data, which the FBI rejects). In fact, Metro East is apparently safer even than the national average.
The first problem I have with the data is that St. Louis’ bizarre municipal boundaries make the per-capita crime statistics appear much higher than they otherwise would be. Crime is a problem in areas of most U.S. cities, but the difference is that it is generally spread out over a larger population. But when St. Louis unincorporated itself from St. Louis County more than a century ago, it effectively land-locked itself. So, unlike metro areas such as Phoenix or Houston (which continue to incorporate “safe” suburban satellites within their municipal boundaries), St. Louis is stuck with inner city crime with nowhere to run. And that is an idiosyncratic feature of the data that should have been accounted for.
My second point of contention, though, is that crime at the national level is grossly underreported, particularly within low-income and minority neighborhoods. I imagine that Compton, Calif., gets a much better rating because most of the crime that occurs within its borders never gets reported to the police. I mean, it’s not like the Crips go to the police station every time a Blood robs one of their fellow gang members. In contrast, I imagine that a significant portion of the crime being reported in St. Louis comes from those trepid suburbanites that make the five-mile trek into the city and become easy prey.
The point of my post was that while I agree that the city has crime problems (I thought I stressed that point when I mentioned that I was mugged outside of my apartment), I believe it is unfair to single out the city for idiosyncratic features that should be washed out of any truly unbiased statistical study. Maybe the data is right, but even then, I don’t see how reporting these statistics does anything but blur the issue.
In closing, I want to add Mark Twain’s famous quip about statistics: “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics." As a native Missourian, he might have had a problem with the St. Louis crime data, too.