Bad Data Drives Fear of Crime

A recent post by a northside blog that attempted to analyze crime statistics underscores the need for a more authoritative entity to analyze gun violence data holistically and release reports as these blogs are failing Chicago’s communities badly.

The latest example of the failure is a recent post by the anonymously written Crime in Wrigleyville and Boystown blog that attempted to analyze shooting and homicide data from the northside community of Lincoln Square. Their report claims that shootings have jumped significantly in the community certainly seems credible, but when you look at the numbers they are talking about, it becomes obvious that they are mistaken. There numbers are just so small that significant jumps such as 300% may be insignificant. While this may be a sign of some change, it near impossible to be certain with such a small data set. In the end, this stands as the archetype of those pushing an agenda to use the numbers to drive up the fear of crime in their audience.  

From CWB blog – bad data analysis

First let me state that I seriously doubt that this chart captures all the shootings in the community over the seventeen years they try to cover. How a shooting gets recorded by the CPD is a little more complicated and needs to be explained to anyone trying to make sense of their supposed analysis. Here is an example:

The CPD can get 10 calls to 911 (actually OEMC gets those calls, and they are called police call for service) but when they get there the victim is not present, no witnesses around, the original 911 callers are not picking up the CPD’s attempt to call them back, and they cannot find shell casings (if they even look for them) guess what – there is no shooting. That’s right. It never shows up in the police data. How can it? What evidence do they have there ever been a shooting? None. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen just means it won’t end up in the books.

Now, the flipside is also true. If for some reason over the last six months a few more of the victims stuck around to file a report with the police than did last year you have your big increase right there.

When you are dealing with such small numbers as this analysis is and the variation normally found over time about how many shootings get recorded officially can have a really big impact on the analysis.

Secondly, just by looking at plain numbers, you have no idea the context around the shooting and how it will or will not apply to your life in the community. Yes, all shootings are bad, but not all shootings actually mean you would be in danger walking to a restaurant in your neighborhood. If your pushing an agenda to drive fear of crime then by all means raise every alarm possible because crime is out of control! Gun violence has jumped up 300% in just 6-months. Time to move away!

If you don’t dig deeper in to the context of each shooting, it is nearly impossible to know exactly what to think. Here are some questions that need to be answered but hardly ever are about the context of shootings. Three questions on both sides of the topic:

Less worrisome:

  1. Are any of the shootings the result of domestic violence? (DV is huge problem, but it does not mean we need to rethink police deployment or that the neighborhood is going to hell – Chicago does need a massive new initiative to deal with the results of DV).
  2. Was the shooting just the result of an interpersonal squabble between the victim and shooter and for some reason they just by coincidence happen to cross paths randomly in your community and the squabble boiled over?
  3. Was the shooting of an interpersonal squabble that started in a different community but randomly ended up resulting in a shooting in your community?

More worrisome:

  1. Was the violence the result of an ongoing gang conflict in your community?
  2. Was the violence due to a new gang coming in to your community?
  3. Was the violence due to a robbery or other property crime that was random but is increasing in your community?

These are the types of questions that are rarely ever asked in the mainstream media and certainly are not going to be asked by a local anonymous blog whose certainly loves to cover crime like the northside of Chicago is hyper-violent. Can you imagine how crazy they would be going if they actually had to live near a community that was actually experiencing high levels of violence?

So, what’s the solution?

Well, Chicago is in desperate need of an independent body that collects all the available information from the criminal justice, health, and school systems about every time a gun is fired in Chicago. This body must then be empowered to issue reports each year detailing everything known about the causes of the violence. We need facts to replace the hyperbolic reporting in our mainstream press and the super hyperbolic pants on fire agendas being driven by the anonymous blogs across Chicago.

This reporting from this new blog needs to be transparent and authoritative so that the public can have faith that no agendas are being pushed behind the scenes. The more the public can learn about the proven causes and solutions to violence, the better they will be able to make the decisions they need to in their daily lives about who to interact with their community.

There is an example of a just such a body just north of Chicago in Milwaukee, called the Milwaukee’s Shoot Review, that could be the starting point for discussions about how such a body would be created in Chicago.

Just a quick last note to those readers of the anonymous blogs in Chicago. If they are afraid to put their name on what they write, you have to be concerned about the authenticity of what they are writing. You also have to worry about the agenda that is being pushed. Many of the blogs love to write up every possible crime they can to drive up the fear of crime among their audience and drive people to click on their links.  You need to remember the reason we have journalists is to filter the meaningless and write about what is truly meaningful. Now, am I saying the mainstream media in Chicago does this when it comes to crime and violence in Chicago? Hell no! But that doesn’t mean these anonymous blogs are any better just because they say they are different. Bad data analysis is bad no matter who does it. Now, when someone writes anonymously are they doing it because they are incompetent or because it fits their agenda? 

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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