Monday, February 13, 2012

All the good news that's not fit to print

Perusing the ultra-slim Monday edition of our local paper this morning over coffee, I read through the regular page-2 feature on GUILFORD COUNTY'S MOST WANTED (their font, not mine). One of the suspects who was wanted for assault with a deadly weapon sounded pretty dangerous; the other who was wanted for forgery and identity theft, a little less so.

The paper has run this every week since February 2008. The implicit message is clear--crime is a big enough problem that the police can't handle it and need the community's help. The feature, another that shows a map of burglaries each week in Greensboro, and the general set of stories in the paper pound a constant drumbeat of fear that crime is out of control.

My guess is that many Greensboro residents would be genuinely shocked to learn that crime is substantially lower in the last few years than in previous years.

Below is the violent crime rate (number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents) from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. The reports have some flaws (they only include crimes reported to police, depend on jurisdiction, etc.; Tony Wilkins can tell you more), but reports over time within the same city tend to be comparable.

The statistics show that Greensboro's violent crime rate in 2010 (the last full year available) was at its lowest point since 1985. Preliminary statistics from 2011 indicate that that year was safer still.

The statistics are no comfort at all to the 1,500 or so victims of violent crime in 2010, but the population as a whole should feel much safer.

The property crime rate in 2010 was also at its lowest level since 1985, as the following chart shows. And again, preliminary statistics from 2011 indicate that the downward trend continued (despite fears expressed by some social scientists).


The one crime that has bucked the trend is burglaries (a component of property crime). The burglary rate in Greensboro spiked in 2007-8 but has decreased since. The recent trend is downward and seems to have continued into 2011. The overall property crime rate is down because the other components--larcenies/thefts, motor vehicle thefts, and arson--are way down (the car theft rate is less than half what it was in the late 1990s).

The statistics don't suggest that vigilance isn't warranted (I'm not about to start leaving my doors to my home or car unlocked), but they do indicate that safety has improved substantially.

Also, the general trends aren't unique to Greensboro. Crime nationally is down.

Maybe somebody should tell the newspapers. Somehow, however, I don't think that we'll see a weekly feature saying GREENSBORO'S CRIME RATE STILL LOWEST SINCE 1985.