St. Louis and Detroit seem to do a tug-of-war game every other year for the title of “America’s Most Dangerous City.” This year, most are leaning to giving Detroit the dishonor. The FBI, which compiles the yearly data, does not rank cities for safety and cautions against doing so.
Police chiefs and city officials in Detroit and elsewhere quickly denounced the findings.
Detroit, with a population of nearly 670,000, had more than 13,700 “violent crimes” last year.
St. Louis, with a population of about 314,500, had just more than 6,000 self-described “violent crimes” in 2016.
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Belleville reported 253 “violent crimes” in 2016. There was one murder, 30 rapes under the revised definition, 51 robberies and 171 aggravated assaults.
Belleville had 1,659 property crimes, 471 burglaries, 1,108 larceny-theft cases, 80 motor vehicle thefts and nine arsons. But those do not count toward the total of “violent crimes.”
How is “violent crime” defined?
It depends, says Bradley Ware, spokesman for the FBI in Springfield, on how the reporting agency classifies crimes in its jurisdiction.
“When you say ‘violent crime,’ did that include a rape, did that include a murder?” he said.
Ware describes the FBI’s role in the annual report as one of “data collection.” Reporting law enforcement agencies are free to define the terms as they wish, which makes easy and true comparisons nearly impossible.
“These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region,” the FBI report notes. “Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.
“Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.”
In addition, the FBI lists several factors affecting the volume and type of crime reporting:
▪ Population density and degree of urbanization.
▪ Variations in composition of the population, particularly youth concentration.
▪ Stability of the population with respect to residents; mobility, commuting patterns, and transient factors.
▪ Economic conditions, including median income, poverty level, and job availability.
▪ Modes of transportation and highway systems.
▪ Cultural factors and educational, recreational, and religious characteristics.
▪ Family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness.
▪ Effective strength of law enforcement agencies.
▪ Administrative and investigative emphases on law enforcement.
▪ Policies of other components of the criminal justice system (i.e., prosecutorial, judicial, correctional, and probational).
▪ Citizens’ attitudes toward crime.
▪ Crime reporting practices of the citizenry.