Editorial LiveJournalists reject Mayor's spin on crime

Last week, we noted the release of the latest FBI crime statistics, which only confirmed what most Houstonians know to be true about violent crime in the city (it's increasing).

Nonetheless, that didn't stop MayorWhiteChiefHurtt's press shop from going into full spin mode for the local media. Here are excerpts from KHOU-11's story that appeared shortly after the FBI information was widely reported:

When the population increase is factored in, the murder rate is still up 11 percent, but violent crimes as a whole including forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault are down 4 percent, a number the city says more accurately reflects the rate of crime in the area.

In the last three years since Ive been mayor, well have less total violent crime than the three years before I was mayor...even though we have a much larger population, Mayor Bill White said.

The bolded part is the sort of reporting that sometimes results when people don't understand basic statistics (and when spinners take advantage of people who don't understand basic statistics). "Violent crimes as a whole" are up, and up significantly. There is no spinning the raw numbers. What the reporter perhaps meant to say is that per capita violent crime is not up if one figures in estimated population figures supplied by HPD -- and we italicize the "if" to emphasize that those numbers are simply estimates.

Both the raw statistics and the per capita statistics are useful, and neither should be viewed in isolation (or spun for political purposes to mislead the public about what is a real crime problem in Houston).

Interestingly, the Editorial LiveJournalists (sometimes referred to as Mrs. White for their unwavering devotion to their man) weren't totally buying the mayor's spin this time:

A graph charting the rise in the rate of all violent crimes in Houston for the first half of 2006 would show a line rising relatively slowly. A graph of the number of Houston police officers in recent years would show a line rapidly descending.

Both of those lines are heading in the wrong direction. Unless the decline in the number of police officers is reversed, Houston risks continued increases in the rate of violent crimes.

According to figures compiled by the FBI, per capita violent crimes in Houston rose by 5.9 percent not quite twice the national rate. The murder rate, however, jumped a startling 28 percent, from 158 during the first six months of 2005 to 202 for the same period this year.

During Mayor Bill White's tenure, retirements in the veteran force have shrunk the department by about 600 officers. At the same time, the city's population has been burgeoning, even without the influx of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The result: a sharp decline in the number of officers per 1,000 residents.

That assessment won't surprise blogHOUSTON readers, but seeing those four paragraphs coming from Mrs. White made me wonder who wrote that editorial! Maybe a bright young intern did it while everyone else was enjoying spiked egg nog?

The conclusion was a bit weak, though:

The first priority, however, must be for HPD to redouble its efforts to recruit, train and deploy new officers. If the force continues to decline at a time of swift population growth, the department could find itself in a personnel hole from which it could not easily extricate itself.

We agree with the first sentence, of course. As for the second sentence, it would seem that HPD is in a pretty serious "personnel hole" now -- and partly because the editorial page of the city's major news daily was disinterested in the problem for years, when the problem might have been addressed more easily.

(Apologies for blogging this bit of "olds" but work, travel, Christmas, and my ThinkPad mishap all conspired to delay this post beyond the usual level of freshness!)

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 12/29/06 01:29 PM | Print |

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