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|Welcome To Crime Stats 101
“Big drop in homicides in L.A."?
Walter Moore[attorney, mayoral candidate]10/4/07
The headline in the L.A. Times story reads, “Big drop in homicides in L.A.” The report -- which reads suspiciously like a Villaraigosa press release -- then exclaims, “Los Angeles has seen a significant decline in homicides so far this year . . . as police embarked on a new strategy involving asking ex-gang members to help prevent violence.”
Next comes the post hoc, ergo propter hoc “explanation” for the decline: “The drop comes nine months after Mayor Antonio Villariagosa and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton vowed to crack down on gangs.” Connie Rice, to whose group Villaraigosa paid about $700,000 of your money to report on “anti-gang” programs -- no conflict of interest there -- called Villaraigosa’s approach a “paradigm-changing breakthrough.” (Sounds like somebody’s “non-profit” group is going to get another $700,000 grant!)
So you, the reader, are supposed to conclude that Villaraigosa has adopted policies that caused a reduction in crime. Get it? New paradigm, crime down, progress, work with gangs, not against them, etc. You’re supposed to accept that having “only” 351 homicides in the City so far this year is good news. Woo hoo!
Don’t your buy it for a minute.
Here’s why. The same story also reports, without analysis or discussion, that: i) there was “an 8% decline in overall violent crime in Los Angeles;” and ii) “homicides in communities patrolled by the county Sheriff’s Department and police officers from neighboring cities were down about 15%.”
Did you catch those two statistics: 8% decline inside the City of L.A., and a 15% decline outside the City of L.A.?
Don’t you find it interesting that murder is down 15% outside L.A., while overall violent crime inside the city is down only 8%? If Villariagosa were doing things better than surrounding cities, wouldn’t the percentage reduction inside the city be greater than the reduction outside the city?
Admittedly, the article doesn’t exactly compare apples to apples -- it doesn’t provide a percentage decline for “overall violent crime” outside the city, or a percentage decline for murder inside the city. But to the extent the statistics suggest anything, they suggest that whatever the sheriff and police in neighboring cities are doing works better than Villaraigosa’s “paradigm-shifting” approach.
The L.A. Times, however, tends to accept as good news whatever Villaraigosa tells them is good news. They don’t bother to analyze what he says, or even to contact, say, the candidate who’s running against the Mayor to see if there might be another way to look at the numbers. Instead, the L.A. Times practices “press release journalism:” they simply re-print Villaraigosa’s press releases as statements of fact.
If the reporter had gone to the LAPD’s website -- or contacted me -- he would have seen that murder inside the city is down 18% this year as opposed to last, versus 15% for surrounding cities. Does that strike you as “paradigm-shifting?” If you were a waiter, and you got an 18% tip instead of a 15% tip, would your paradigm feel all shifted? Neither would mine. (Query whether the three percent difference is even statistically significant.)
Plus, do you know the difference between “murder” and “attempted murder?” A good doctor. The homicide numbers could reflect a decrease in crime, but they may just reflect better medical care for crime victims Guess how many people got shot in the City of L.A. between January 1, 2007 and September 22, 2007? The correct answer, per the LAPD’s own website, is 1424. How many of those people were a suture away from being homicide statistics? As Rob Marinko points out, closing the King / Drew Medical center probably increased victims’ survival rate!
And are we really supposed to feel safer in a city where 1424 people get shot in under nine months?
My position on crime and gangs is as follows: We shouldn’t negotiate with gangs. We should bust them up. We need to arrest and deport every gang member who is in this country illegally, without waiting for them to commit additional crimes. We also need to hire however many police it takes -- Bratton says he needs another 3000 officers -- to make every street in every neighborhood safe 24/7. We need to provide children with safe streets, all the time, so they don’t have to join gangs for protection. CRO
2007 Walter Moore