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Tucson police chief disputes website's label as Arizona's “most dangerous” city
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Tucson police chief disputes website's label as Arizona's “most dangerous” city

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Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus says a website unfairly characterized the city as a dangerous place based on a misleading reading of federal crime statistics.

Here’s what Magnus says about the article by 247wallst.com:

A recent online article was referenced by the Arizona Daily Star in an article entitled, “Website says Tucson is the most dangerous city in Arizona.”  Naturally, articles of this kind generate considerable interest and understandable concern with the public we serve. The safety of our community remains our foremost priority and crime reduction is one of three key performance expectations (along with traffic safety and community engagement) that we have established for our members.

It is unfortunate that the Star only alluded to the “insightful analysis and commentary” offered by the original reporting site 247wallst.com without informing its readership of what exactly the data was based on or represents.  For example, the headline statement “Tucson is the most dangerous city in Arizona” is misleading and incomplete.  Unfortunately, what is lost in this headline is that for the purpose of the article, the term “city” only includes Arizona jurisdictions with a population of 250,000 or more.  At the time of the data collection for this article, that only included three cities:  Phoenix, Tucson, and Mesa.  

When the list is expanded to include all Arizona cities that chose to report their data for 2015, Tucson ranked 10th in violent crime per 100,000 residents.  More significantly, compared with “like cities” in terms of population across the country (FBI Group I subset 500k<1M residents), Tucson is 24.5 percent below the national average rate of violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

It is important to emphasize that these are simply raw statistics, based upon the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which relies upon voluntary reporting of crime data from law enforcement agencies.  Unlike Tucson, which reports all crime data, many agencies elect only to report some or none of their crime data.  In addition, the FBI steadfastly warns against the misleading perceptions that can occur when UCR statistics are used to create “rankings” without complete analysis.  In fact, the FBI has dedicated pages of the UCR portion of their website to cautioning about just such use of UCR data.

The FBI document “Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics: Their Proper Use” reads, in part, “Data users should not rank locales because there are many factors that cause the nature and type of crime to vary from place to place. Rankings ignore the uniqueness of each locale.”  The document further states, “When providing/using agency-oriented statistics, the FBI cautions and, in fact, strongly discourages, data users against using rankings to evaluate locales or the effectiveness of their law enforcement agencies.”

One example of how misleading the use of raw statistical reporting can be is evident when using the rate of homicides per 100,000 residents to determine the relative “safety” of a city.  The raw statistics fail to account for the nature or type of crime categories as they actually occur within a city.  In Tucson, for example, the overwhelming majority of homicides are committed by suspects who are known to their victims.  In the clear majority of homicide cases in which the suspects and victims did not know each other, victims were engaged in risky and/or criminal behavior that placed them at an elevated risk of becoming victims of crime.  Quite simply, a complete analysis of the data shows that the average Tucsonan does not need to live in fear of becoming a victim of violent crime.

Making broad public safety statements based solely on UCR reported data creates confusion. The violent crime figures cited by this report center in large part on crimes which are rarely stranger attacks, but instead are regularly committed by someone known to the victim.  Ignoring this reality not only misleads the reader, but contributes to a sense of fear unsupported by actual facts.  

Finally, unlike many cities our size, Tucson is a large city where the police still respond to a wide range of crimes to conduct investigations and take reports.  In fact, we not only respond to many crimes that other police agencies downgrade, we proactively engage with the public and encourage community members to report all crimes, especially crimes involving domestic violence or sexual assault.  As a result, the UCR data reflects a greater number of reported incidents in cities like Tucson compared to jurisdictions which are less accessible or responsive.

The members of the Tucson Police Department take our city’s crime rate seriously and have made lowering it among our most critical objectives.  This is also the reason we continue to emphasize the importance of increasing our staffing levels and insuring we are able to retain our personnel through appropriate compensation, superior equipment, and high quality training.  Effective and sustainable crime reduction requires strong partnerships and a commitment from everyone in our community.


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