Criminologist Explains Why City Crime Rankings Are Flawed


The rankings of “dangerous” and “safe” cities published by Congressional Quarterly Press are flawed because “knowing the city a person lives in tells you nothing about the, quote, ‘danger’ they may face,” criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis tells National Public Radio’s “On the Media.” He adds: “Knowing the neighborhood a person lives in might tell you something more important about their risk for crime. And, in fact, differences in crime risk across neighborhoods, within any city, tend to be much greater than differences between cities in crime rate.”

“Uncritical media attention [to the rankings] compounds the error,” Rosenfeld says, “and the city and its residents suffer as a result, I should say, especially the downtown areas of those cities. When people read about the city they’re not already familiar with, they often associate the crime risk with the downtown area of the city, the place that people visit, stay in hotels downtown, visit cultural attractions, and so forth. In fact, of serious violent crimes that occur in the city, four to five percent of them tend to occur in the downtown area. When you consider the [] effective population of downtown areas, all the people who work there, who recreate there during the evenings, that’s a very, very low percentage. But you’d never know about that from the crime rankings.”


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