MEASURABLE CRIME RATE GOING DOWN NATIONALLY, BUT STATISTICS ARE NOTORIOUSLY SLIPPERY … plus … A STATISTICAL LOOK AT CRIME IN THE CITY OF PITTSFIELD (NOT RECOMMENDED FOR THE SQUEAMISH)
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, APRIL 1, 2013) — We will pass on the obvious temptation offered by April Fool’s Day. In one way or another, we are all fools and in our own way wise men. We are, as Kris Kristofferson once wrote in a lyric, “walking contradictions, partly truth, partly fiction.”
It would probably pass easily for an April Fool’s story, however, the news that made the wires last week about the continued drop in the national crime rate. The feds released new statistics, and pundits throughout the land were trying to explain the meaning.
It the reported drop in crime what it seems?
You may have seen a wire story in the Boring Broadsheet on the state’s dropping rate: The headline read: “Mass. spends more on prisons, as crime rates drop.” Does one cause the other? Also, how much safer do you feel when you have to go to downtown Pittsfield after 5 p.m.? Questions to be pondered.
Rates are Down for a Number of Reasons
Nationally, there are a number of reasons why the measured and measurable crime rate is going down. These include:
* The Massachusetts solution — Impose unrealistic sentences for minor crime and throw everybody you can into the hoosegow. “Correction officer” is one of the growth industries of this politically lopsided state. Nationally, to the country’s disgrace, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, almost 750 prisoners per 100,000 population. At the end of 2010, U.S. prisons housed 2,266,800 people, with Hispanics and blacks disproportionately represented.
* More cops — Police states tend to have relatively little crime. THE PLANET doesn’t make the claim that we are at that point, although the indicators nationally are moving in that direction by the freedom- impinging excesses of Patriot Act, the growing behemoth of the Department of Homeland Security, and the mistaken notion that more cops equals more peace of mind.
* New technology — Security cameras everywhere, and so are computers.
* Data — Police work relies more and more on databases, information, and other forms of technology. It’s similar to what has happened in major league coaching ranks: Hot: Employing data. Cold: Playing hunches.
* Age — Crime is mostly committed by young people, and America is graying.
* Preventive crime fighting — As the L.A. Times puts it in an article by Matt Pearce, “More abortions mean fewer dadless troublemakers.”
Here’s another question: Does a falling crime rate mean that actual crime occurs at a statistically lesser frequency? Most likely, the answer is no. The crime rate can only include the “measurable.” Many crimes are committed that are never solved. How many breaks-in, petty thefts, incidents of shoplifting, and even undetected murders and rapes are there?
‘Statistics are Notoriously Slippery’
“Statistics are notoriously slippery, but the figures that suggest that violence has been disappearing in the United States contain a blind spot so large that to cite them uncritically, as the major papers do, is to collude in an epic con,” Christopher Glazek wrote in a recent issue of n+1 magazine. “Uncounted in the official tallies are the hundreds of thousands of crimes that take place in the country’s prison system, a vast and growing residential network whose forsaken tenants increasingly bear the brunt of America’s propensity for anger and violence. … Crime has not fallen in the United States. It’s been shifted.”
Glazer points out that statistically safer cities, as measured by the crime rate, come at a high price: It uproots non-violent offenders (think teens sent to prison for years because of marijuana) from their homes and families. It throws them in prison. There, they learn how to be criminals. If they try to live productive lives, they face the tough task of trying to find a job with a prison record coloring scarlett the “A” on their resumes.
As Glazer points out, “You cannot relieve the suffering of the prison population without increasing safety risks for the rest of us.”
The L.A. Times piece also brings out a point that can apply to most every city in the country, including Pittsfield: “At the same time, America’s police forces have become increasingly militarized. In many cities, public safety budgets are often the last to be cut, despite police spending increasing 445% since 1982, according to the Justice Policy Institute.”
How Safe Is Pittsfield? Not Very
According to the website http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ma/crime, Pittsfield’s crime index is 21 on a scale of 1 to 100, with 1 being downtown Kabul after midnight and 100 being the safest. In other words, 79% of all the cities in America are measurably safer than Pittsfield. Crime occurs at a rate 50% higher in Pittsfield than in the national median. In Massachusetts, the chances of becoming a crime victim are 1 in 233. In Pittsfield, it’s 1 in 165. Moreover, Pittsfield’s crime rate per 1,000 population is double that of the country on average. Compared to similar numbers for American cities, Pittsfield’s murder rate is nearly double, rape occurs 150% times the national average, and assault nearly twice as much. Only on robbery and motor vehicle theft does Pittsfield do slightly better than the national average.
According the neighborhoodscout‘s analysis of where crime occurs in Pittsfield, these are the top 10 neighborhoods ranked according to crime, with 1 being the safest and 10 being the least safe:
1. Dalton Avenue / Connecticut Avenue — SAFEST
2. Coltsville / Lakewood (tie)
3. West Pittsfield
4. Camp Stevenson area
5. Williams Street / Holmes Road
6. Victory Hill
7. South Mountain Road / Barker Road
8. Lakeview Terrace
9. City Center
10. Onota Street / Linden Street. — MOST DANGEROUS
As you can see, downtown at #9 doesn’t fare well. Another way of putting it is that you are safer in the other 80% of the city than you are in downtown providing you are not on the west side (Onota Street / Linden Street). Crime per square mile, property crime rate, violent crime, and neighborhood crime are all higher downtown than in the areas in 1-8. What does Downtown Pittsfield Inc. have to say about that, we wonder? What does Mayor Bianchi, the Chamber of Commerce, and the rest of the “rah-rah” gang have to say? For their part, downtown merchants feel forgotten.
Incidentally, the safest community in the state of Massachusetts is Monterey, with zero crimes reported for 2012 among its population of 963.
According to cityrating.com,
‘The Imperfect Storm’
Combine this information with the poor performance of the city’s public schools, add the toxins left behind by General Electric, with a dash of political ineptness thrown in, and you have the imperfect storm of civic demoralization and its aftermath: apathy.
If this year’s municipal election gives us more of the same old same old, the goose will get cooked even more.
Is there a champion, a rescuer, a superhero for Pittsfield hiding out for the moment? A jousting knight on a white steed? A candidate who has never been a “politician” and who loathes the term? Someone not afraid to address the intractable problems on behalf of Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski? Someone with private sector experience and inclinations, deep intelligence, and decisiveness, who loathes both factions of the current political klans (and their innumerable tributaries) that currently have the city under their sore thumbs?
“What does not change / is the will to change.” — Charles Olson
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.