Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Why this list of 30 most "dangerous" cities (Spokane is No. 22) is #problematic

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 2:57 PM

Spokane is apparently the 22nd most dangerous city in the entire United States. At least, that's what the folks over at Safewise would have you believe. 

You remember Safewise (or maybe you don't). They're the home-security system advertiser/seller who has a monied interest in scaring you out of your hard-earned cash and into a fancy new alarm system. 

Earlier this month, the company released a list of the "30 Most Dangerous Cities in America — 2016." Using the most recent FBI crime data and population data, Safewise crunched the numbers for violent crimes per 1,000 people and property crimes per 1,000 people, and voila! You get the 30 most dangerous cities in the country.  

(They left out cities with less than 10,000 residents and those that didn't submit a complete crime report to the FBI.)  

Topping the list is little Tukwila, Washington, a suburb in King County with a population approaching 20,000 as of 2014. According to Safewise, Tukwila sees 8.18 violent crimes per 1,000 people and 165.75 property crimes per 1,000 people. 

Spokane, which has the lowest violent crime rate among the 30 cities listed, comes in at No. 22: 5.48 violent crimes per 1,000 and 85.59 property crimes per 1,000. 

But there are a few problems with Safewise's rankings. 

First, it appears that the number crunchers simply added the rate of violent crimes and the rate of property crimes, which means murder and rape are weighted the same as stealing a TV from Wal-Mart. 

Second, big cities such as Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis, which frequently top "most violent cities" lists, are missing from this report. One explanation could be that beleaguered places like Chicago are less likely to bother police with something like a burglary, when they have drive-by shootings to deal with.

Finally, according to Spokane Police Officer Teresa Fuller, crime reporting systems across the country can vary. Although Safewise is using data from the FBI, how that data is collected at the state level is not necessarily consistent.

"There's a bunch of other towns from different states on that list, and I don't know what reporting system they use," Fuller says. "It could be like comparing apples to oranges to bananas.

"You really do have to question the methodology and the reason behind them publishing this study. It's hard to say if their ranking has any validity at all." 

Fuller adds that other factors contribute to how safe or dangerous a city might be, such as number of officers per population and area and prevalence of gang violence.

An international news outlet based in New York, The Epoch Times, did some digging into the top five cities on the list. Four are relatively small cities near larger, crime-ridden cities. 

No. 1 Tukwila, for example, the south Seattle suburb, saw one murder in 2014 and zero in 2013.

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About The Author

Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.