City, university dispute crime rankings

Even though the number of violent crimes in the Elm City fell 11 percent last year, New Haven came in 12th in CQ Press’s much-disputed annual city crime rankings, up from its 18th spot last year.

CQ Press, a division of SAGE Publications, which puts out publications on American government and politics, publicizes this ranking every year. But Yale and city officials said the rankings, which are based on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and were published last month, inflate the crime rate because they fail to account for the daily influx of people who work and enjoy nightlife in the city but live elsewhere. Instead, they point to CQ Press’s ranking of metropolitan areas as a fairer representation of New Haven’s crime status, which puts the New Haven and Milford area 170th in the nation, down from 168th in last year’s ranking.

Though CQ’s rankings are widely considered more comprehensive than the more simplistic rankings published by the website 24/7 Wall Street, which ranked New Haven the fourth most dangerous city in the United States, critics of CQ Press’s list claim that it also does not take enough variables into account to be completely accurate. 24/7 Wall Street’s city rankings were based exclusively on the metric of violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said there are several typical problems with crime rankings, though he add that he did not wish to make excuses for the crimes themselves.

“Everyone with the slightest knowledge of this issue knows the rankings are not credible, but the publication persists with them, presumably because rankings are popular and sell books,” the United States Conference of Mayors said in a November statement that pre-empted the release of CQ Press’s ranking. “Unfortunately, they also do real harm to the cities that come out on the losing end.”

Rankings do not allow for any explanation or comment, which can create a false picture of crime because “there are circumstances to all crimes,” Hartman said. For instance, last year three people were killed in a single arson, which is not the same as three innocent people gunned down on the street, even though it is “no less a murder,” he explained.

Though the Elm City saw a jump in homicides last year — to 34, up from 24 in 2010 — the number of aggravated assaults dropped 21 percent and the incidence of rape fell 17 percent.

But more than that, Hartman and University spokesman Tom Conroy pointed to what they say is a misleading geographical sample that is often used for New Haven. The city rankings take into account only New Haven’s 17-square-mile city area, and not the 132-square-mile greater New Haven area used in the calculation of the metropolitan area rankings.

In addition, the rankings do not take into account the Elm City’s net population gain of 28,000 daily due to people entering the city for work or commerce, according to data from Yale’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications. Hartman added that New Haven has at least 14 nightclubs — more than the number in Waterbury, Bridgeport and Hartford — that attract many people from nearby cities, thereby further inflating the population susceptible to crime and resulting in a “black eye” in the rankings.

On its website, the FBI cautions against using its UCR data to produce rankings. These methodologies “lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents,” according to the website.

But John Jenkins, CQ Press’s publisher, defended the rankings, even though there are “many variables” to crime.

“As journalists, we take very seriously our responsibility to keep Americans informed — even if the news is not good,” he wrote in a statement on CQ Press’s website. “So we publish such data, even if it causes cities and officials to feel aggrieved.”

Some New Haven residens argue that statistics do not represent public opinion about safety in New Haven. Donald Morris, head of a local antiviolence group called the Brotherhood Leadership Summit, said rankings like those released by the CQ Press do not necessarily reflect how people on the “street level” feel.

Conroy said there has been a “renaissance” in New Haven over the last 15 years, pointing to the growth in restaurants and stores, as well as the low apartment vacancy rate.

“Perception can lag [behind] reality, but perception does improve as reality improves and the perception of New Haven has improved, and rightly so,” he said. “The perception of any city is more than just the issue of safety. It’s also what a city has to offer. New Haven is safer and has more to offer.”

At the top of CQ Press’s ranking of the most dangerous cities in the nation are Flint, Mich., Camden, N.J., Detroit, Mich., St. Louis, Mo., and Oakland, Calif.

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