CRIME, PERCEPTIONS OF CRIME, AND THE MEDIA: PART 2
On Thursday May 27, 2010, the Daily News featured its second article of 2010 about crime in East New York. You can read the 5/27/10 article by clicking here and the 1/12/10 article by clicking here.
The fact that two have appeared in the Daily News in under six months calls for closer scrutiny. Let me start with the crime stats themselves. CompStat reports are available to the public, and they take only a few seconds to download and another few seconds to read.
That is the extent of the research done by the Daily News.
Using this method, no wonder East New York continues to stand out as the city's crime capital, a long-held perception partially created by the media, and perpetuated either by those that believe newspapers like the Daily News are really doing their homework when reporting, or worse, by those that use these negative statistics as a badge of honor, as though coming from a crime-ridden neighborhood was something to be proud of.
There are 76 precincts in New York City. It isn't hard to take the CompStat reports and sort them by total numbers of each crime year-to-date, its 2009 year-to-date value for comparative purposes, and the percentage of increase/decrease, also for comparative purposes. It's also not hard to do the same with the grand total for all major crimes (murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny auto) for the precinct year-to-date, show its 2009 year-to-date value, and the percentage of increase/decrease. To do this all you need is a spreadsheet program and a little time and patience. Again, so far this is not so hard at all. Download a document, read it, type some numbers, build in some formulas, and you're done.
The Daily News article made a point of calling out the 75 Precinct's overall crime number, stating it had increased to 8% (they rounded it, it's actually 8.11%). So just on this point alone, let's see where the 75 Precinct falls in overall crime when compared to the other precincts of the city:
*The 22nd Precinct is also known as the Central Park Precinct.
What about the percent of increase for homicides? We don't even make the top 10; we rank 25th citywide.
How about the percent of increase for rape? Not here either. The 75 Precinct ranks 23rd citywide.
Perhaps the percent of increase for robberies? Here there is some cause for concern, as we rank fifth citywide, but still not first.
And finally, what about the percent of increase for assaults? The 75 Precinct drops down to 33rd citywide.
Okay, so East New York doesn't lead the city in overall increase in crime, nor does it lead the city in each violent crime's percent of increase. Surely an examination of the actual numbers of the four violent crimes will show East New York as dangerous badlands described twice by the Daily News.
This is where some extra research is needed. You'll need the population for each precinct, and this is hard to figure out because we are in a census year, and the most reliable source of population data available to the general public is the 2000 Census. You can make minor adjustments to this by factoring in housing development data to get a sense of where the population increased in areas where there was no housing 10 years ago. This is an estimate only and won't greatly affect results because to compare crime correctly you really need to do it on a per capita basis. In other words, take each precinct's population and divide by 100,000, then divide the individual crime's statistic by the adjusted population value.
SPECIAL NOTE: to do this analysis correctly, you'll need to correct something on the CompStat reports. CompStat doesn't handle zeros all that well. For example, if you have 2 murders in 2010 and had none in 2009, you'll see ***.** on the CompStat report. If you plug the numbers into Excel you get the dreaded #DIV/0!. Oddly enough, Excel won't give you the #DIV/0! if you have 0 murders in 2010 but had 2 in 2009. It will show a 100% decrease in murders. So those of you that plan on tracking crime stats on your own, remember to make adjustments for this.
When the CompStat numbers are adjusted on a per capita basis, a very different story reveals itself: there are parts of the city that have significantly more crimes per hundred thousand people. This startling fact is not just for the 2010 year-to-date crimes but goes back decades. To demonstrate this point, I took a look at the same violent crimes of 1995, adjusted per capita, here is what I got for the borough of Brooklyn.
Homicides, per capita. The 75 Precinct ranks fifth borough-wide.
Rapes, per capita. In 1995 the 75 Precinct lead the borough in this category.
Robberies, per capita. The 75 Precinct drops to fifth here.
Felony Assault, per capital. The 75 Precinct is again fifth here.
A citywide analysis of this type would take too long, but I have no doubt it would push down further the 75 Precinct statistically. For now, the point is made and it begs the questions:
Was East New York ever the crime capital of New York City?
Okay. The past is past. Let's get back to 2010. When I take the current year-to-date numbers and adjust them per capita, here's how the 75 Precinct stacks up against the entire city:
These numbers will undoubtedly change as we enter the warmer weather, cool down after that, and, a year from now, the values change again thanks to fresh data available from the 2010 Census. And on that subject, for those residents of the East New York community our census numbers have a lot to do with crime reporting and other types data that are tracked on a per capita basis. An undercount drives the per capita crimes up, not down. This hurts us more than people realize.
A valid argument can be made about examining crime stats strictly on a per capita basis. For example, Central Park technically has no residents, yet what about the homeless population living there? How do you take into account many parts of Manhattan and other communities around the city that have significant transient populations either for work, recreation, or that seek various government services? What then is the most accurate way to report crime stats? I don't know, but what is certain is that using CompStat at face value is misleading and unfair.
Back to the Daily News article. When a major daily newspaper produces a puff piece about crime, making inflammatory, uncorroborated statements like, "...when it comes to crime, East New York continues to be a world apart from the borough and the rest of the city", it may be sloppy or lazy reporting, filler to show contrast against the "great and safe" communities elsewhere in the city. But when a major daily newspaper does two pieces like this in under six months, it is irresponsible, and the community has a right to ask if the paper is trying to make news, instead of report on it.
No one in East New York doubts we still have major crime issues. Inspector Maddrey, the commanding officer of the 75 Precinct was featured in the Daily News and spoke of the ever-growing gang problem here. The Inspector should know, since he makes it a point to know every community representative and leader and knows where all the crime hot spots are, as well as frequently attending community meetings in person. The 75 Precinct has had a string of excellent commanding officers, but I've never seen this level of engagement. I hope it catches on citywide. East New York is also fortunate to have two Weed & Seed programs up and running, as well as a very active precinct community council. Other neighborhood groups, like the Zone 2 Advisory Board, numerous tenant and block associations, and other groups of people continue to come together and work to fight crime and improve quality of life.
See, that's where the real story is. East New York has had for many years many concerned citizens that come together to work towards a better community and they share in taking credit for the significant crime decreases of the past 20 years. We also enjoy life through things like street fairs, block parties, neighborhood events and fairs, and so much more. Our cultural diversity has dramatically increased and is evident throughout our different retail strips. All this and more...and you'd never know it though if you relied strictly on newspapers like the Daily News, quick to print the latest body count of East New York, but no where to be seen during the many positive celebrations of community life that we share here. It's one thing to report major crimes that occur here--that is a media outlet's responsibility and should be done in a fair and balanced way--but when a newspaper throws a few quickly-had bits of data up, then adds in quotes from citizens to make it appear that there's is a community-wide trend, then something's wrong.
When the January 2010 Daily News piece ran I did a blog post calling attention to that story's inaccuracies. I also gave readers advice on how to handle situations like this. Some asked me to send my posting to the editorial board of the Daily News. Some will probably ask me to do so again with this post, especially because it's more detailed. My question is: why bother? An editor already saw it. And in the case of the second Daily News article, it was a Daily News Bureau Chief that wrote it. I can think of better things to do with a stamp, paper and envelope.
The right way to combat these types of articles is that when a media outlet does this, bring that article to the attention of the advertisers of the community it features. Make sure you ask that business owner: Why are you spending thousands of dollars for ads in a paper that is trying to chase your customers away? Let me reiterate that it's one thing to engage in fair and balanced reporting of all communities, but it's another thing altogether to keep singling out a neighborhood with incomplete data and trying to create news. If you're talking to the business owner him/herself, the dots will connect quickly.
Blogs do more than allow people to share their opinions and knowledge on various subjects; they also help to keep the media in check through fact checking. I encourage you to do your own fact checking using the sources I listed above and help keep communities like East New York from being further maligned. I look forward to your comments. Thanks for reading.