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Thursday, December 29, 2011

New York vs. Memphis

New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted the last ten years as the city's safest decade, pointing to declines in all major crime categories. Crime in 2011 ticked up, barely, by 0.4 percent, from the year before. Murders were down to 502 for the year, compared with 536 in 2010.

Commissioner Raymond Kelly says the reason for the decline is clear: police work. Quoting extensively from the book "The City that Became Safe" by criminologist Franklin Zimring, Kelly says that social factors had nothing to do with making New York a safer place to live.

When it comes to crime data, Memphis's Mayor A.C. Wharton is the unfortunate victim of statistical swings that accompany small populations. Murder in his city jumped 25 percent in 2011, after a record low the year before.

In real terms, it means 118 people were killed in Memphis in 2011, up from 98 the year before. With a bit over six hundred thousand residents (about half the population of the Bronx), the city is more prone to statistical swings than the Big Apple. 

There seems to be another difference, when it comes to taking credit for swings in crime.

Asked about 2010's record low number of homicides, Memphis police Deputy Chief Dave Martello said, "last year, for whatever reason -- and we don't have an explanation -- for whatever reason there was a significant number of less homicides." 

I appreciate the glibness of his answer.

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