Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Quick Look at Crime: That's Odd...

The conventional view of policy analysts overstates how much their job is simply to carry out the requests of their clients. Like city managers, lawyers, professors, and Congressmen, policy analysts have significantly better information about their subject than do the people they are working for. Therefore, an important part of their role is to come up with new ideas that haven't occurred to their clients. For policy analysts, this includes the task of looking at lists of numbers and saying, "Huh. That's odd."

This is a long preface to telling you about some browsing I was recently doing, I can't remember why, in 2008 FBI statistics about crime in the United States. I've done some simple long division (see August 14) to highlight the oddity. 

Changes in violent crime rates, 1989-2008:

Murder and non-negligent manslaughter: -38%

Robbery: -38%

Aggravated assault: -29%

Forcible rape: -23%

2008 violent crime rates in cities of under 10,000 as a fraction of rates in cities of over 250,000:

Murder and non-negligent manslaughter: 23%

Robbery: 16%

Aggravated assault: 50%

Forcible rape: 81%

To say the least, rape looks like an outlier. I think this is something worth noticing, don't you? If I were to pursue this further (I don't plan to, but be my guest) I would want to know whether the figures on big city/small town disparity looked similar in 1989--i.e., a lot more rape in small towns than you would expect relative to other violent crimes--or whether in small towns, rape has declined much less than other crimes since 1989. Those alternatives would probably lead to differing suggestions for future policies: is it a problem of small-town culture, small-town policing, or what? Keep me posted.

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