Making sense of muffed crime reporting/editorializing

On January 1, posted a story by Peggy O'Hare that seemed like a rushed effort to get unofficial 2006 crime statistics posted to the web.

Here's the story's third paragraph:

Despite another annual increase, residents here are not necessarily at greater risk of becoming a homicide victim. That's because Houston's homicide rate per 100,000 residents rose only incrementally in 2006 since the city's population is estimated to have surged by more than 148,000 people, due largely to an influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

That bolded editorializing is curious, since this is allegedly a news story. Perhaps the reporter should have stuck simply to reporting the facts and not editorializing about them, because she later seems to contradict herself:

In 2006, the Houston Police Department recorded 379 homicides as of Dec. 31, a 13.5 percent increase from the 334 homicides recorded in 2005. The 2006 total is the highest since 1994, when 419 homicides were reported in the city.

It was the second consecutive year for a steep jump, although the increase was not nearly as alarming as the 23 percent rise in homicides seen at the end of 2005.

Despite the upward trend, Houston's homicide rate per 100,000 residents hardly changed at all. That number increased from 16.33 in 2005 to 17.24 in 2006.

The reason? Houston's population jumped by 7.5 percent during that same 12-month period a massive increase.

Those bolded parts are interesting. Houston's homicide rate per 100,000 residents increased by 5.57% from 2005 to 2006, which (the reporter editorializes) is hardly a change at all. Houston's population "jumped" by 7.5% over the same period, however, which the reporter characterizes as "a massive increase." Apparently at the Chron city desk, percentage increases of 6% or so don't register as change at all, but anything much larger is massive!

In any case, there is a measurably greater risk of becoming a homicide victim in Houston, contrary to the characterization in the story's third sentence.

Again, less editorializing probably would have served this reporter and the Chronicle better, since this effort is just a mess. In fact, editing might have helped a bit too -- but who knows, maybe the new city editor was tied up watching the TV news again! And all of this per-capita-crime editorializing/reporting assumes the city's population estimates are accurate, even though those estimates are not yet supported by official Census data.

There was some improvement in the murder numbers over the last three months of 2006 (if the Chronicle reporting is accurate), and some improvement in rates of other types of crime over the last year. It would be nice if we've seen the worst of the crime surge, although overall crime levels are still high and HPD manpower is still low -- not necessarily a winning combination.

Incidentally, Houston bicyclist Bob Stein is quoted by the reporter. Nowhere does the reporter mention that Stein's wife is the White Administration's agenda director. That probably is worth a mention if the newspaper is going to cite the man's evaluation of crime in a city where his wife serves as a key advisor to the mayor.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 01/02/07 10:24 PM | Print |

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