Friday, October 21, 2011

Crime Data & Politics

Data on crime is one of the most vetted statistical recordings of human behavior in our country and also one of the most abused data sources politicians use to promote their preferred policies, as this article from the Washington Post reveals.

An excerpt, with links at the jump.

“In the battle over the administration’s jobs bill, Vice President Biden this week has been making the startling case that more people will be murdered or raped if the legislation is not passed. His argument is that in cities such as Flint, Mich., the murder and rape rates have soared as the police force has been cut back for budgetary reasons.

“When challenged by a reporter from a conservative publication about his charge (see video below), Biden stood his ground and said without more money, “murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise.” As he put it, “Go look at the numbers.”

“Okay, challenge taken. What do the numbers show?

“The Facts

“Flint is certainly a violent city, ranked number one in many categories. The website of the Flint Police Department only gives data through 2008, but both the FBI and the Michigan State Police have more recent figures that are provided to them by the Flint police. The numbers are not precisely the same because of different reporting requirements, but they are roughly the same—and show a different picture than reported by Biden.

“The Flint website for 2008 shows the same figures that Biden cited: 35 murders and 91 rapes.

“Here’s what the FBI shows:


“City of Flint: 32 murders, 103 rapes

“Surrounding area: 37 murders, 239 rapes

“RATE PER 100,000 INHABITANTS: murder, 8.6; rape 55.5 percent


“City of Flint: 36 murders, 91 rapes

“Surrounding area: 44 murders, 235 rapes

“RATE PER 100,000 INHABITANTS: murder, 10.3; rape, 55.1


“City of Flint: 53 murders, 92 rapes

“Surrounding area: 58 murders, 225 rapes

“RATE PER 100,000 INHABITANTS: murder, 13.8; rape 53.7

“More important than the raw figures is the rate per 100,000 individuals. Murder did go up—though the rate did not double from 2009 to 2010, as Biden claimed. But rape has gone down. Biden actually asserted it had tripled.”