A new study released today attempts to use socioeconomic data to better compare big city homicide figures and determine whether a city’s crime is essentially better or worse than one would expect given poverty, median income, unemployment, race composition and female-headed households. In a nutshell, they're trying to determine which places may be overcoming demographic challenges through programs and policies, and which should be doing a heck of a lot better. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the study shows that we're basically right where the demographics suggest we should be.
Using data from 2008 and the first half of 2009, researchers from the Improving Crime Data program found that some cities, such as Detroit, Cleveland and Atlanta, end up falling down the list of deadliest cities, indicating those places have a lower homicide rate than would be expected based on its level of socioeconomic disadvantage. Detroit fell from No. 2 all the way to No. 53, indicating that, in other words, things in Detroit could have been a lot worse in 2008 given their demographics.
I’m not sure if that’s comforting for the city with the top homicide rate in the country, but one of the researchers, Robert Friedmann of Georgia State University, put a positive spin on it. "If you're a CEO flying out to Detroit considering whether to move your business there, the ranking shows you its not as bad as you initially thought," he said.
Other cities, such as San Jose, San Francisco, Albuquerque, N.M. and Colorado Springs, Col. shot up the list. Or in other words, according to the researchers, even though crime appears low, something isn’t going right in those cities. Friedmann told me San Francisco officials have been angered at the fact that each year their city soars in the rankings, an indication that they're dropping the ball given their favorable demographics.
There wasn’t much good news for Baltimore in the rankings. Along with St. Louis, the researchers determined our crime was about what would be expected - with both cities ranking at the top of either list. Baltimore fell from three to five between the unadjusted and adjusted lists in 2008, surpassed by Oakland, Calif. and Kansas City. In the first half of 2009, we fell from two to three, surpassed by...St. Louis.
It should be noted that the list featured 63 cities, with, from what I can tell, the main criteria being a population of at least 250,000 people. Cities that general FBI data showed were among the tops in murder rate, including New Orleans, La. (the top city), Birmingham, Ala., Jackson, Miss, Baton Rouge, La. and Flint, Mich. were not among those that were considered in this study. I wonder how including more cities in the analysis might have changed Baltimore’s ranking.
The study also fails to take into account some of the drivers of the socioeconomic data that they're studying, some of which has a lot to do with simply how a city's boundaries are drawn. For example, Los Angeles' city limits stretch far, gobbling up lots of more affluent areas that drive up the population and bring little crime with. Think Baltimore if it included Baltimore County. Baltimore and Washington DC, meanwhile, have tight boundaries drawn around the urban core.