Saturday, August 2, 2008

Longer view

Thursday's release of the crime statistics for Lincoln in the first six months of 2008 was a bit startling. A 19.4% drop in Part 1 offenses gets some attention. Even adjusting for the reporting change we made last summer, the drop is still an impressive 13.4%. Reporter Lori Pilger's article in the Lincoln Journal Star is pretty comprehensive, and there's not much more I need to add to what I said yesterday. There are some comments following Thursday's post concerning POP projects that address what I'm most concerned about--robberies--but other than that, the data is cause for a minor celebration, and some head scratching about causes, something I'll cover down the road.

I am always leery about taking too much away from short-term statistics, particularly when the numbers are small--as they are in certain types of crime. The longer the timeline, the more likely the "trend" is not a "blip." One of the handouts I took to the Mayor's news conference concerned that trend, but didn't make it into the stories I read or saw. Here it is (click to enlarge):

Now that is an irrefutable trend. I picked 1991 as the starting year, because that is when crime peaked in Lincoln. In reality the trend goes back even further. I've got easy access to crime data back to 1985 (you do to--our annual reports).

I know this is counterintuitive and difficult to believe, but I can't help that. The facts are facts: There were fewer FBI Part 1 Crimes in Lincoln in 2007 than there were in 1988. Not fewer per capita, just plain fewer: 13,063 vs. 13,190. Lincoln's population in 1988 was 187,890, about 63,000 less than today. And Part 1 Crime is in a free-fall so far this year. When you adjust for population, and express crime as the rate per 1,000 residents, the drop is dramatic over the past 20 years. It has, however, been a drop in property crime: the violent crime rate has remained relatively stable. Since the FBI Part 1 offenses are dominated by property crime, a small change there overwhelms a large change in violent crime. Here's the way 2007's Part 1 offenses shake out by type (click to enlarge):

You can roll your own statistics on our public web site, with a slick application that lets you pick crimes types and time periods back to 1990, or you can find our annual reports on line from 1985 to 2007.


Anonymous said...

Do you think that the mere perception of increasing crime rates (borne out by actual stats or not) might, over time, tend to decrease the reporting rate of crimes? If so, that could make crime (reported crime, that is) deceptively low.

I'm guessing that higher-crime cities (like Detroit) tend to have lower reporting rates for most crimes (rape, assault, larceny, etc) than do lower-crime cities (like Lincoln), so it seems possible that if the citizenry believed (rightly or not) that crime rates are rising steadily over a long period of time, they might be less motivated to report them ("Oh, why bother, this place is going to the pits more every day.").

Tom Casady said...


I think there may be something to that, although I tend to believe that the thought process is more like: "Oh, the police don't want to be bothered with my missing lawn gnome, when people are being shot every day."

Actually, I think when big city departments are dealing with a huge workload, that they change reporting processes so that they are not overwhelmed with traffic accidents, shoplifters, and minor vandalism. That's what's happened in Lincoln, and probably accounts for at least some of the decline (as noted in the post.)

Anonymous said...

I was hired in 1991 and crime has decreased since - coincidence? I think not.

Anonymous said...

In the late 1970's I was an owner operator. I was in Houston waiting for a dispatch so three of us took my tractor to a nearby Pizza Hut to grab lunch. While parked in their parking lot thieves stole all my chains and binders and two large tarps. The total dollar amount was close to $1,500.00. When I saw I had been ripped off I called 911. I WAS PUT ON HOLD! After about 30 seconds I finally got a live person on the phone. She asked if this was a life or death emergency. I told her it wasn't and she then told me I would have to report property crime to the Harris County Sheriff and she gave me their number. It took me three days to get through to them and when I did they faxed me a report to fill out and send back in. That is life in a high crime city.

You and your guys are doing a fine job Chief. Keep it up.
Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Do you think/find that people in the general public (or even city council and mayor's office) are asking why we need more police officers if the crime rate is falling? Is it tough to convince them your department is understaffed?

Tom Casady said...


Yes. That's why about every third sentence out of my mouth at every budget meeting with the Mayor and Council is this: "Crime is only a small part of what we do." The Part 1 Crimes account for about 13,000 or our 140,000 dispatches--less than 10%. By comparison, we'll handle about 10,000 traffic crashs, 20,000disturbances, 2,500 missing persons, 1,600 mental health investigations, and 2,500 child abuse/neglect cases, to name a few.

Anonymous said...

One reason you didn't see the info in your chart make it into any news stories might be that "The sky is falling" sells more newspapers and keeps viewers watching longer than "The sky isn't falling". Apprehensive people buy more papers, and higher circulation numbers equal higher advertising rates. The real job of commercial news media is to sell ads. Reporting the news is just how they make you hang around and watch, hear, or read those ads.

Anonymous said...

I think it just reinforces our first theory.

Reading is fundamental.

Tom Casady said...


You're right.


Yer right.

Stan Marsh said...

Well, things have happened to skew the results though- For instance, LPD stopped responding to every "Blue car unknown plate" gas drive off call. That had to lower the Larceny's significantly. I know that I used to take a few of those daily, as did everyone else, after we implemented that new standing order (due to the shortage of Officers) I took roughly 1 every month or two until 2008 and haven't taken on at all in the last 8 months. So it may appear crime is down, but I would venture to guess that it is the same, but doesn't get reported like it used to.

Tom Casady said...

Did you read the article at all? The impact of the change in how we handle gas drive-offs was noted, and I told everyone consistently that there needs to be an asterisk in the record book. So far in 2008, gas drive-offs account for about 400 of the 1,286+ fewer Part 1 crimes. If you factored that out the decline would be 13.4%, not 19.4%, as correctly reported by the media.

Anonymous said...

We're noticing similar trends in Part I crimes in our area, however, Identity Theft is NOT a Part I crime and it's up 24% for 2008 YTD (and, no, we're not talking small numerical changes). Perhaps once we're all moved over to NIBRS we'll get a slightly clearer picture.

Just my 2 cents.

Lorimor said...

Where's all the murder and mayhem we were promised when CCW became the law of the land?