City Crime Rankings: ‘Invalid, Damaging and Irresponsible' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

City Crime Rankings: ‘Invalid, Damaging and Irresponsible'

We've been warning Jackson for years about the "dangerous" city rankings scam designed to sell books. Leaders in most cities across American cringe and complain when the CQ Press (formerly known as Morgan-Quitno) "dangerous" rankings come out—but here in Jackson, corporate media and politicians from Haley Barbour to former DA candidate Wilson Carroll to supporters of Marshand Crisler tend to take a less-intelligent approach. It's as if they view the rankings as the perfect opportunity for sensationalism and cheap votes. We've written many pieces about this problem. (Also see: Barbour, Carroll Bash Jackson With Old Statistics). Meanwhile, the FBI has warned for years against taking these "rankings" seriously.

Today, The Atlantic published a piece called "The Problem With City Crime Rankings," precisely about the problems with this CQ Press scam. It starts:

This week, CQ Press released its annual City Crime Rankings, which purports to identify the most dangerous cities in America. Though the rankings received plenty of attention, especially in the cities that top the list—Flint, Michigan; Camden, New Jersey; and Detroit this year—they're misleading, unfairly damaging and unworthy of any attention at all. Don't take my word for it. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose statistics the rankings are based on, says such rankings "lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents."

The American Society of Criminology calls them "invalid, damaging, and irresponsible…City crime rankings make no one safer, but they can harm the cities they tarnish and divert attention from the individual and community characteristics that elevate crime in all cities." Last year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors denounced the publication as "a premeditated statistical mugging of America‘s cities."

That criminology organization even passed a resolution against use of the rankings:

"Be it resolved, that the Executive Board of the American Society of Criminology opposes the use of Uniform Crime Reports data to rank American cities as 'dangerous' or 'safe' without proper consideration of the limitations of these data. Such rankings are invalid, damaging, and irresponsible. They fail to account for the many conditions affecting crime rates, the mismeasurement of crime, large community differences in crime within cities, and the factors affecting individuals' crime risk. City crime rankings make no one safer, but they can harm the cities they tarnish and divert attention from the individual and community characteristics that elevate crime in all cities. The American Society of Criminology urges media outlets to subject city crime rankings to scientifically sound evaluation and will make crime experts available to assist in this vital public responsibility."

In The Atlantic piece, criminologist Richard Rosenfeld said: ""The fundamental problem with the rankings is that they are supposed to inform individuals about their chances of becoming victims of crime, yet they tell you almost nothing about a person's risk for crime. A person's age, gender, their activities—all those help tell you a person's risk for crime."

That is, the rankings are just used to scare people, sell newspapers, raise TV ratings and get votes for politicians. The sad part is that media outlets and politicians who know better continue using them --although we're hearing less about them from The Clarion-Ledger these days after our years of dogging them about their selective use of them (which helped get Frank Melton elected). Years after the JFP exposed his use of the bogus numbers in his DA campaign, Wilson Carroll turned around and helped the pro-Two Lakes Better Jackson Pac use the numbers in scary mailers supporting Marshand Crisler (who had pledged to support Two Lakes, incidentally). Then just recently, they showed up in a report by the Greater Jackson Chamber, as we reported here. (Chamber, you need to edit that report or risk the whole thing losing credibility due to the inclusion of these bogus rankings.)

Rosenfeld advises that comparing crime patterns within cities (such as JPD does with COMSTAT) is a much more useful crime-fighting tool and that cities must study the "denominator" effect (see the article for an explanation.)

The Atlantic ends with a warning about the effect such bogus sensationalism has on city's economic development:

"Policy wonks can fret all day about the bogus methodology, but the rankings are irresistible to news outlets, summing up a complex web of crime's causes and effects into one easy headline. ... "In the world of economic development, perception drives reality," says Dick Fleming, CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, where refuting the annual publication is a well-rehearsed drill. "What we bristle at is the intellectually dishonest way in which they choose to convey this information. When the FBI, the source of this data, has a warning on their website about it, it is absolutely irresponsible to publish it."

Read more evidence-based crime reports: JFP Crime Blog

Previous Comments


This is telling re those rankings (which include car thefts with a person nowhere near their car) as "dangerous." The New York Times did a piece this week about homicides in New Orleans. Even though CQ Press ranks Jackson as more "dangerous" this year, NOLA has had 175 homicides. It's all so bogus that it makes my fingernails hurt. But read the Times piece. Obviously, these homicides are a problem, and the focus must be on how to *prevent* them because that is the only way to make a city safer.


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