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May 24, 2011

Putting Ray Lewis' crime prediction to the test

[UPDATE, Wednesday 11:40 AM: I asked one of the country's leading criminologists, Rick Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, to evaluate my analysis. He got back to me today and here's his response: "Your method of testing the theory that football reduces crime is perfectly fine.  You were right not to rely on the single result involving the bye week.  The other week-to-week comparisons are valid.  Nice!" So there you go.]

So the Ravens' Ray Lewis says crime will increase in the event of an NFL lockout. "Do the research," he told ESPN. "Watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up when we take away the game."

Can we quantify this theory? Well, we can sure as heck try.

In a highly unscientific analysis, I took data from the city's Open Baltimore web site that allows us to look at crimes recorded by day, and maybe Lewis is on to something: As it turns out, the Ravens' bye week was the Sunday during the NFL season that saw the highest number of crimes. The following week, when the team resumed play against the Dolphins, was all quiet, relatively speaking.

Week 7 (Oct. 24 vs. Buffalo Bills) - 128 crimes recorded by police

Week 8 (Oct. 31  - Ravens' bye week) - 158 crimes

Week 9 (Nov. 7 - vs. Miami Dolphins) - 102 crimes

That's a 23 percent increase during the bye week, followed by a 35 percent decrease once playing resumed. Only two other NFL Sundays saw more than 130 total crimes recorded (Week 3, 6, and 17), and most were in the 102-125 range.

Did I mention this is unscientific?

Beyond the bye week test, other attempts to measure this issue seem to cast doubt on whether there's a correlation. A comparison of the first few weeks of the season to the weeks that preceded kickoff Sunday - and similarly, the playoff weeks compared with the weeks that followed the team's exit - seems to dump some cold water on the analysis:

Aug 15, 22, 29 and Sept. 6 (the Sundays comprising the pre-season), and Sept. 12, 19, 26, and Oct. 3 (the first four Sundays of the NFL season), saw the exact same number of crimes: an average of 130.5 incidents recorded by police. The final weekend of the season and the weekends of the Ravens' two playoff games actually saw more crime than the three weekends after they were knocked out - an average of 222 crimes while they were in contention, and 195 after they were sent packing.

There's one more scenario to consider. There's been two prior work stoppages, in the 1980s. While we don't have detailed data for those years, a month-by-month look at homicides shows that there was an increase in homicides during the months of the 1982 strike, with killings increasing from 33 to 44. During the 1987 strike, there wasn't any noticeable difference, though Baltimore also didn't have a football team by that time.

What's that, you say? This analysis fails to take into account weather, school schedules, police deployments, the fact that the team played some of its games on Mondays or Thursdays, and a whole host of other mitigating factors?

Well, to that I say: I told you it was unscientific.
Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:41 AM | | Comments (9)


All of the Ravens were on the field during the that crime was down. During the bye, who knows?

Ravens bye week was during Halloween. Why didn't you look at past Halloween crime stats and compare them to the weeks before and after?

Data not available. But a good point, and another to add to the disclaimer (or is it a mea culpa?) paragraph at the end. -JF

Well how does crime compare to the week before week one, compared to week one, and the week we lost to the steelers in the playoffs vs. the following week after?

Please re-read the post, as that issue is discussed before and after the jump.

I don't think this data correlates to Lewis' claim at all. There are still plenty of NFL games to watch during a team's bye week, so the average football fan will still be occupied. It seems pretty obvious that there would be a spike in crime during Halloween weekend, too.

The only way you could correlate it is to look at a period when there was supposed to be football but wasn't for an extended period of time. The 1982 strike year would be a good candidate, but there are probably too many demographical differences between 1982 and 2011 to make a realistic conclusion.

Here's the problem with people who like to run their mouths. It's all well and good that one thinks they know more than everyone else and they can explain how it all is, but with the data emanating from the Open Baltimore Website, the searchable Sun archives and they stats released by the police department, one's assumptions can quickly be confirmed or denied. Be careful what you proclaim as truth because you can be proven wrong with a really quick search and tabulation.

What's unfortunate about this stuff is that I've actually seen studies that discuss the relationship (or lack thereof) between football season and crime rates, but now whenever I google "football and crime rate study" or whatever else I can think of, all I get are 5,000 results of people arguing over Ray Lewis' comments. Ray basically google-bombed his own argument.

I have to defend Ray on this. I think what he meant was that those people who would be effected negatively by the lack of income due to the cancellation of the NFL season would be more likely to replace their lost income by reverting to crime. Not that boredom would cause crime but economic loss would cause people to resort to other sources of income. Those people negatively impacted on the periphery of the NFL economy, like those people who sell hats and snacks outside of the stadium on game day, may need to replace lost income.

was Ray talking about the players?

10 players have been arrested since lockout and all of them are black.

How about the correalation between crime rate stats in cities that NFL teams are from and the crime rate stats in cities that no NFL team exsist? One example would be Los Angeles, with their long drought of no NFL team.
As a student of Social Psycology I find it intrigueing how a city culture can change just because there's no football on TV. Why not hockey (re: Vancouver)? Or soccer (re: Latin America)? Or even tennis (re: McEnroe)?

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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