Murder statistics make for good headlines, but they may not be the best gauge of violent crime, or a city’s safety, says Carl Bialik, the “numbers guy” for the Wall Street Journal Online. Bialik cited the Improving Crime Data project, run by Georgia State University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which asserts that a city’s stats should be adjusted for underlying demographic characteristics. The project says that using 2004 data, San Francisco was No. 1 among 67 cities in adjusted homicide rates, despite ranking 30th in the raw rates. Atlanta, conversely, fell to No. 46 from No. 7 after the adjustments. The underlying premise, that a city’s economic and demographic makeup forecasts crime rates, has controversial implications. Does the model suggest that African Americans are more likely to commit murder than whites living in similar circumstances?
Meanwhile, Anthony Harris, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, argues that murder numbers are not a good measuring stick because they can be heavily influenced by the emergency medical care someone receives. Harris says it would be better to look at all violent crime, rather than homicide. “If people were looking at aggravated assault and the use of guns in producing serious injury, I think the debate would be totally different,” he says. “The big social indicator is injury by gun, and its long-term medical effects.”