Experts Say ‘Most Dangerous City’ Rankings Twist Numbers

AP, November 18, 2007

In another blow to the Motor City’s tarnished image, Detroit pushed past St. Louis to become the nation’s most dangerous city, according to a private research group’s controversial analysis, released Sunday, of annual FBI crime statistics.

The study drew harsh criticism even before it came out. The American Society of Criminology launched a pre-emptive strike Friday, issuing a statement attacking it as “an irresponsible misuse” of crime data.

The 14th annual “City Crime Rankings: Crime in Metropolitan America” was published by CQ Press, a unit of Congressional Quarterly Inc. It is based on the FBI’s September 24 crime statistics report.

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Last year’s crime leader, St. Louis, Missouri, fell to No. 2. Another Michigan city, Flint, ranked third, followed by Oakland, California; Camden, New Jersey; Birmingham, Alabama; North Charleston, South Carolina; Memphis, Tennessee; Richmond, California; and Cleveland, Ohio.

The study ranked Mission Viejo, California, as the safest U.S. city, followed by Clarkstown, New York; Brick Township, New Jersey; Amherst, New York; and Sugar Land, Texas.

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Detroit was pegged the nation’s murder capital in the 1980s and has lost nearly 1 million people since 1950, according to the Census Bureau. Downtown sports stadiums and corporate headquarters—along with the redevelopment of the riverfront of this city of 919,000—have slowed but not reversed the decline. Officials have said crime reports don’t help.

Detroit police officials released a statement Sunday night disputing the report, saying it fails to put crime information into proper context.

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The rankings “do groundless harm to many communities,” said Michael Tonry, president of the American Society of Criminology.

“They also work against a key goal of our society, which is a better understanding of crime-related issues by both scientists and the public,” Tonry said.

Critics also complain that numbers don’t tell the whole story because of differences among cities.

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Doug Goldenberg-Hart, acquisitions editor at CQ Press, said that the rankings are imperfect, but that the numbers are straightforward. Cities at the top of the list would not be there unless they ranked poorly in all six crime categories, he said.

“The idea that people oppose it, it’s kind of blaming the messenger,” Goldenberg-Hart said. “It’s not coming to terms with the idea that crime is a persistent problem in our society.”

The report “helps concerned Americans learn how their communities fare in the fight against crime,” CQ Press said in a statement. “The first step in making our cities and states safer is to understand the true magnitude of their crime problems. This will only be achieved through straightforward data that all of us can use and understand.”

The study excluded Chicago, Minneapolis, and other Illinois and Minnesota cities because of incomplete data.

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