The costs of ranking cities by their rates of reported crime outweigh the benefits, criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri at St. Louis asserted yesterday. Rosenfeld spoke at the American Society of Criminology, which is holding its annual meeting in St. Louis. CQ Press, publisher of an annual volume that ranks cities and metropolitan areas, is scheduled to issue this year’s edition on Nov. 24. The company says it will no longer refer to cities at the top and bottom of the list as the “most dangerous” or “safest” cities. Rosenfeld argued that the rankings misinform the public about the true risks of crime in a particular area. James Noonan of the FBI Uniform Crime Reports unit, speaking on the same panel, noted that the rankings tend to punish police agencies that report crime data accurately. The FBI opposes using its data for rankings.
Jeff Rainford, a top adviser to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, contended that the city crime rankings “offer no useful information.” In St. Louis, which has ranked high on the list of per capita crime rates, five neighborhoods do have high crime totals but 74 are relatively safe, Rainford said. CQ Press Acquisitions Editor Doug Goldenberg-Hart told the session that publication of the crime data has prompted some cities to step up their anticrime efforts. He cited Oakland as having overhauled its policing in part after being cited as one of the highest-crime cities in the country. “The numbers are the numbers,” he said. St. Louis’ Rainford suggested that analysts correlate crime rates with other factors such as poverty levels, gun availability, sentencing practices and the impact of tax policy.