Annapolis Crime Debate Continues As Officers Remain Unhired

The Capital ran an editorial about the crime report released by Dennis Conti and Trudy McFall, and about crime in Annapolis in general.

Crossposted on Annapolis Politics

The title of the editorial is “Numbers crunching won’t resolve city crime issue”. No, it wont, but it is the first step. Analyzing data, for those journalism majors who apparently don’t take math courses, allows an interested observer to assess a situation based on facts. If those facts point to a problem, then the observer can figure out where the problem is coming from, and offer solutions to solve said problem.

The featured editorial sentence (or whatever you call the sentence that’s not the title but it’s in larger font and off to the side) says the following:

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Whether city crime is up sharply depends on what span of time you are looking at.

This is correct in the most literal sense–especially if you cherry pick a statistically odd year. But let’s be honest: this quote would make it seem that there’s no concrete evidence and we shouldn’t worry about crime.

Since 1990:
-robberies 80% higher
-murders 40% higher (small sample size alert)
-motor vehicle thefts 50% higher

2006-2007 trends in calls for service:
-100% increase in alcohol violations
-60% increase in shootings
-16% increase in calls for drug activity

If you ask me, this is enough for concern. So if I were The Capital, I would have said: Whether city crime is up sharply depends on what span of time you are looking at, but no matter what time frame you look at, you should be concerned.

Keep reading below the fold.

(Formatting note: normally I would write my semi-brilliant commentary in normal font, with quoted text in bold italics. However, in this post I will be quoting 2 different sources, so I am going to post text from The Capital’s editorial in bold italics and text from the Conti crime report in underlined italics.)

Residents aren’t worried about crime because of categories and percentages. They are worried about reports of pointless killings and vicious muggings, and about overheard gunfire and glimpses of drug activity.

Here’s that whole data thing again. The danger of making crime policy based on what people perceive is that you might be misallocating resources. You need the data to verify what the problem actually is.

Even so, Mr. Conti accounts for the prima facie perception of crime:

There are some calls-for-service that may not show up as a statistic in either Part I or Part II crime data. Two common examples are “shots fired” and “drug activity.” When officers are dispatched for these two occurrences, more often than not no arrests are made and there is no other means for recording these incidents, yet they certainly are a big part of citizens’ perception of public safety.

Fortunately for us Mr. Conti took the next step–getting the data–and unfortunately for us, that data confirmed that we have more of a problem then comparable jurisdictions.

(Kudos to Mr. Conti for getting the data, because it’s a pain in the ass to get data from the city. AP tried to get a list of every financial transaction paid, and was informed that such a list was encyclopedic and would cost $.25 per page to print. First of all, Kinkos makes copies for $.09 per page, and second of all, I’m sure such a file exists electronically and could simply be emailed. The hurdle deterred me, as I’m sure it does many people, but Mr. Conti took the time to get the info.)

The editorial usefully points out the hypocrisy of the mayor criticizing a report that she herself asked for last year, when she basically told us to figure it out for ourselves.

The Capital also addressed, albeit incompletely, the possible biases of the report’s authors:

True, it isn’t coming from a neutral source. How often to you encounter perfect neutrality when issues are being hashed out by city residents? Dr. Conti is the founder of the Clay Street Public Safety Team and a former head of the city Housing Authority. The document was written for Citizens for a Better Annapolis, an organization founded by Ms. McFall, a former Housing Authority chairman who is now a potential mayoral candidate.

Not surprisingly, the report de-emphasizes the link between public housing and city crime, pointing out that major crimes in 2006 were scattered all over the city. Ms. McFall notes that legal Housing Authority residents, who are 6.1 percent of the city population, account for only 5 percent of arrests.

Everyone is self-interested to one degree or another, and everyone is biased. It is crucial to understand how such biases might influence information that is being presented. That being said, to their credit, Mr. Conti and Ms. McFall are not drawing any false conclusions. They are saying that we have a problem, based on data, and we need to fix it.

If they were saying “You should vote for us because we are tough on crime. We both presided over HACA and our residents really didn’t commit that much crime”, then I would have an issue. But that’s not what they are saying.

As far as policy is concerned, the data from the report surely underestimates the need to take action. Regarding the comparisons between public housing crime and rest of the city crime, the report’s data recognizes only legal HACA residents. It does not include crime committed by residents of non-HACA subsidized housing, nor illegal HACA residents. I submit that the drug and violent crime correlations would be even stronger when these things are considered.

So what did the report find:

1. Annapolis has a significant problem in murders and robberies

2. There has been a sharp increase in the first half of 2007 compared to the same period in 2006 in the areas of Alcohol Violations, Stabbings, Homicides, Shots Fired, Suspicious Activity, and Drug Activity.

3. Officers are responding to a large number of calls related to non-violent crime. One such large category of calls – i.e., Intrusion Alarms – appears to be triggered accidentally when businesses open or close. It is presumed that better public awareness and/or fines for multiple false alarms would incentivize businesses to be more vigilant in handling their alarm systems, and therefore free up officers for other duties.

4. Although Part I crimes are occurring through much of the City, a correlation appears to exist between drug activity and the more violent Part I crimes, such as aggravated assaults.

And what does it suggest we do about it?

1. Annapolis should move from the current crime control approach (i.e., sitting in cars, responding to calls) to a crime/disorder prevention approach (i.e., community policing).

2. A crime/disorder prevention approach addresses both:- violent crimes, robberies, drug dealing, etc. and- disorder and “quality of life” crimes (drunkenness, noise disturbances, etc.).

3. Community policing is generally considered to have one or more of the following: foot patrols, consistent area assignments, problem solving with residents, training and organizing residents, police substations in strategic locations.

4. Community policing would appear to be particularly useful in areas of high crime and drug activity, the surrounding neighborhoods, and areas subject to “quality of life” problems such as downtown.

5. The Annapolis Police Department should immediately begin some pilot community policing initiatives in the above areas and evaluate the results.

6. The Annapolis Police Department should explore the use of interns, new recruits and/or police auxiliary to handle the more mundane calls-for-service.

7. Using the experience from these new approaches, Annapolis needs to determine the kind and level of policing that is appropriate for the City.

8. Based on the resulting policing plan, the City would determine appropriate manpower needs and should undertake a continuous, aggressive recruitment program.

The Capital reaches a similar conclusion….

Without a police department at full strength, we can’t see how the city will generate better numbers on crime – or, more importantly, ease the concerns of its residents.

….but doesn’t seem to understand why.

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