MA’s Most Violent Cities and Towns: FBI Crime Data
Friday, September 20, 2013
The information reported includes violent crimes -- murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, and robbery -- as well as property crimes including burglary, larceny/theft, and motor vehicle theft, as well as arson.
For 2012, the FBI estimated that nationally, the number of property crimes decreased .9 percent -- but that violent crimes increased .7 percent, which the FBI reported was virtually unchanged when compared to the 2011 rate.
The "Crime in the United States" report is a "statistical compilation of offense and arrest data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.
"We don't interpret stats, we refer people back to criminologists for crime trends," said FBI Boston Media Coordinator Special Agent Greg Comcowich. "We simply put out the stats, and its our policy not to comment, or interpret them.
GoLocal talked with Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association Executive Director, Chief Wayne Sampson and Northeastern Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy James Alan Fox, as to what the numbers mean -- and in some instances, don't mean.
Fox on the Record
"What this year's data show is that that everything's fairly level -- not very surprising," said Fox. "We've seen a long term slow decline and a plateau. It's a criminal justice limbo stick.
"Police officials and politicians say they want to drive crime down more, which might not be possible," said Fox. "At this point, I think the challenge is to see that it doesn't go back up."
Fox noted that while homicide levels only changed a percent of a percent, the FBI's unveiling this week of data was overshadowed by the mass shooting that took place in Washington, DC earlier this week.
"What people might night realize is that mass murders in the country have remained relatively level over the past few decades," said Fox, citing that number hovering around 20 a year. "The only thing that's changed with 24/7 news and the online coverage is the amount of attention that's been paid."
Of the relevance of the FBI data to the average citizen, Fox said, "Crime is a local issue. These stats show you national, state, city trends, but they gloss over underlying patterns.
"If a person is looking at the data, they're most concerned about their neighborhoods," explained Fox. "What really impacts people's perceptions are the stories that get reported. People may not realize because of the coverage, crime rates have actually gone down 50% in recent decades."
Local Police Perspective on Data
Former police chief Sampson noted similarly that the while the FBI data might be good for a larger-scale perspective, it wasn't necessarily as impactful at the local level
"Sometimes the FBI data will show us trends -- an increase in drugs in a certain part of the country, for instance," said Sampson. If New York, Connecticut, and New England see a big uptick in drug distribution, the questions are to what's going on in this region of the country and why? So for the FBI, it may be, "What's coming out of New York? Is there a cartel, ring?
Sampson continued, "Certainly, the major cities across the country, there's a use for this information. There's an association just of of major city chiefs that delve into these issues on a larger scale."
"On the local level, communities that have similar interest can get together and share information, by looking at our state statistics and information on a regular basis. From those positions, it is helpful. If we see a change, or a trend, we look at how to address it, and not need to wait until the data comes out at year end. Police in smaller communities are better off if they base their actions on personal statistics, and trends in surround towns.'
Sampson noted that the changing times played a role in current crime trends.
"We look at intelligence info to find whatever the route is 'in', to see how to address the crime. A lot of things today are gang related -- it's not the organized crime of 30 years ago. It's a more tech based, mobile."
According to Sampson, it is the data that the police collect daily, weekly, and monthly that help dictate actions.
"If we see crime trends -- such as a rash of housebreaks, shoplifting -- we can react much quicker than just the FBI data coming out later. We can spot trends here within a week, and we can put that info out countywide.
I think the public should always be concerned be concerned about crime trends -- but they shouldn't be concerned about the reporting. What is important is statements that come out of their local departments about a particular crime spree."
See the Massachusetts cities and towns with the highest percentage of violent crime per capita in 2012 BELOW.
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