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Monday, June 22, 2009

"Intellectually dishonest" report claims OTR is nation's most dangerous neighborhood

Crime and public safety is a tricky issue. Simply throwing more police is not always the solution, just as adding additional social service programs doesn't always do the trick. What is generally accepted though is that economics tend to drive criminal behavior.

A "study" that came out yesterday reported that Cincinnati's historic Over-the-Rhine is the most dangerous neighborhood in the country. That's right, the most dangerous. Besides not even passing the smell test, this study fails in several regards: outdated data, selective boundary drawing and lack of human understanding of reality.

Data Inconsistencies:
The report's methodology cites that: "Violent crimes included are the violent crimes from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. Based on multiple years of data, and predicted to the individual neighborhood level by NeighborhoodScout's exclusive crime models, we list the top 25 most dangerous. The rating is based on the predicted number of violent crimes in the neighborhood per 1,000 population of the neighborhood."

Using this methodology one can look at what they examined for the slice of Over-the-Rhine that they examined and extrapolated for the rest of the neighborhood. The study look at areas found within the 45210 and 45214 zip codes (part of northwest OTR and some of the West End) and they predicted an annual violent crime count of 457. They then created a violent crime rate (per 1,000) and came up with a 266.94 figure. Finally this all translates into what they claim is a 1 in 4 chance of being a victim in one year in Over-the-Rhine.

Here's the problem with their analysis. In 2007 the crime statistics for Over-the-Rhine (full neighborhood) registered a total of 390 violent crimes. So if all of Over-the-Rhine had 390 violent crimes in 2007, why would they project 457 violent crimes in 1/4th of the neighborhood?

According to 2000 Census Over-the-Rhine has 7,638 people. At 390 violent crimes in 2007, the violent rate per 1000 would be 51.6 (1/2 of the 25th Most Dangerous Neighborhood) and five times less than the report from this "study."

Crime trends based on Cincinnati Police Department public records

The report is based on the FBI's Unified Crime Reports. If you take a brief second or two out of your life you can read the clear warning on their site regarding the use of this data for comparison purposes.

"Each year when Crime in the United States is published, some entities use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.

The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment. “Variables Affecting Crime” in Crime in the United States has more information on this topic."

3CDC's Response:
The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) is a group of local corporations in Cincinnati that have worked towards redeveloping Cincinnati's center city into a vibrant, safe and livable area that is appealing to a diverse collection of people including the talent they are attempting to attract to Cincinnati.

3CDC's Kelly Leon also stated that she spoke with Lt. Mark Briede from the Cincinnati Police Department today, and he informed her that crime stats for January-May 2009 compared to January-May 2005 indicates a 36% drop in violent crime in Over-the-Rhine. This is important, because the study that was released only examined data from 2005 to 2007 and ignored the most recent crime data available to the public.

3CDC has been intimately involved in Over-the-Rhine for several years now working on the area in Over-the-Rhine known as the Gateway Quarter where almost $100 million of private investment has occurred and resulted in hundreds of new residential units and dozens of new businesses. Below you can see the statement released by 3CDC in response to what they consider to be an "intellectually dishonest" report.

“The study released today regarding Over-the-Rhine (OTR) focuses on approximately 20 square blocks, some of them not even located in OTR and is based on data that is more than two and a half years old. In fact, reported crime through 2008 in the area of OTR south of Liberty Street, known as OTR Gateway, is down 37% since 2004.

“OTR is 110 square blocks and includes several neighborhood districts including OTR Gateway, centered at the corner of 12th and Vine streets. This area, and other OTR census tract areas, was not part of the study.

“It is unfortunate and intellectually dishonest that the entire neighborhood was labeled in such a negative way. The fact is, $84 million has been invested in OTR Gateway since 2004 and new home owners and business owners are investing in the neighborhood. This past Saturday, a 5K run and day-long Summer Celebration arts festival brought about 2,000 people to the corner of 12th and Vine to shop, eat and listen to music. The only problem was that some of our vendors didn’t anticipate such a large crowd and ran out of food.”
Area of Over-the-Rhine examined

Reality On The Ground:
Crunching the numbers only gets you so far, as you can often manipulate data to tell what ever story it is you want to tell. The reality is what is experienced on the ground, and my hunch is that this computer model never took a visit to Over-the-Rhine to meet the people, business owners and visitors that love the neighborhood.

Feeling safe in an area is often a subjective item. One person may feel more comfortable in an area than someone else. If I feel comfortable walking around Findlay Market's nearby streets (which I do) and someone else does not, then who is right?

If you have never been to a place then how can you reasonably make an assumption on its safety as you would perceive it. I have often given tours to out-of-towners visiting Cincinnati and considering a move into a Downtown or Over-the-Rhine dwelling unit. Instead of telling them if the neighborhood is safe or not I take them for a walk through the neighborhood and let them decide for themselves. Often times after they see the single women, children playing outside and individuals walking dogs they get the feeling that the hype isn't always true.

Officer Daniel O`Malley of the Cincinnati Police Department's District 1 - photo by Ronny Salerno

Ronny Salerno did a great write up of his own on this very topic. He examined the study's findings and compared them to his personal experiences of doing "ride-alongs" with District 1 police officers that patrol Over-the-Rhine.

Ronny also goes on to discuss his observations, of the neighborhood, from his exploration of the neighborhood's architecture, abandoned buildings and newly renovated structures. Personal knowledge and experience seems to trump all, and those that know Over-the-Rhine know that this report is not only outdated, but it is flat out wrong and illustrates lazy research that is distanced from reality.


Anonymous said...

Smells completely of power/money politics. Follow the stink.

Todd McFarland said...

Great article Randy. I was craving some honest and current data on this topic tonight!

Quimbob said...

The quote from the FBI site is great. Did you hear 1 reporter bring it up as they reported this story in the media ?

ben said...

Great job of debunking the study and pointing out exactly what was wrong with it. I was a little disappointed with this though: "Crunching the numbers only gets you so far, as you can often manipulate data to tell what ever story it is you want to tell." I disagree. The problem is that data can be abused by people who are either sloppy or trying to mislead others, and it's crucial when that happens to point it out as you did such a nice job of doing here).

But that doesn't mean that data is worthless- the best way to answer the question of what the most dangerous neigborhood is would still be to go out and systematically and accurately record every incident there using geographical distinctions that make sense and doing so in a way that is comparable across cities. The problem is that the people who did this study acted like they had done that, when in fact they hadn't.

Breeden said...

Um, I don't know where you guys live at, but I live in OTR. Not the cheesy 3CDC run area but a little further up near Clifton and Vine were the gentrification hasn't quite made it up just yet. It is a warzone and I am glad it has been labeled so. I'm afraid to walk down the street and other people should be too. I have personally known one person that was shot in the neck while being mugged, three others robbed at gunpoint, and I myself have had a gun pointed at me. That's just in the year that I have lived here. Saying that it's not a VERY dangerous neighborhood is grossly irresponsible. Where I live, I cannot imagine it being much worse anywhere else, and that is not dishonest.

Jason said...

Breeden...If its SO dangerous why in hell are you still living there?
It makes no sense to me why you would be happy to hear the neighborhood labeled in such a way if its the neighborhood you live in. The reason being that if its labeled so poorly no one will want to live there and its condition will worsen.

The reason people are upset by this labeling is because the neighborhood has made great strides forward in recent years. Whether you think its "cheesy" or not at least the historic buildings and architecture are being preserved for future generations. There are a lot more people living here now that want to see it change for the better. We're sick of hearing everyone talk crap about it so they can justify letting it rot.

You're part of the problem.

We're not trying to say its not a dangerous neighborhood IN SOME PARTS. We're just trying to prevent the entire neighborhood from being crapped on by the media so that no one wants to give it a chance.

John F. said...

What I found worse than the report was the local media's regurgitation of it. I woke up to channel 5's coverage of this story this morning, and this is my summary of it. (Please note I was in bed so I am not vouching for 100% accuracy in my retelling, but this is the gist:)

1. Reporting that a web site had ranked OTR the most dangerous neighborhood in the country. False. The web site is ranking area bounded by Central Pkwy, Liberty, Vine, and W McMicken, in zip codes 45210 and 45214 as "the most dangerous neighborhood in the country."

2. Reporting that the Cincinnati police said that this did not accurately reflect 2009 crime statistics in the area. (It might have been more useful to report what year crime statistics WERE used from, and the relative decline in reported crime since then.)

3. Interviewing a man who "lived near the area in question" who said "of course it's dangerous, I see prostitutes sharing needles out here on the corner all the time." I can't impugn the man's honesty, I don't walk those streets at night. (Why does he?) But why do prostitutes sharing needles make him feel like he is in imminent danger of being the victim of a violent crime? Don't get me wrong, I'd avoid that activity if I saw it all the time. But where did they get this guy and why interview HIM?

Breeden said...

My living situation doesn't allow me to move. We can't all afford $175,00 condos. I am happy to see the neighborhood revitalized, if I live here or not. I am not however OK with people pretending like everything is fine here. That, I feel is part of the problem. I do not see the great strides that are being talked about except for a few blocks near downtown. There are 110 blocks in OTR, the strides are on but a few of those.

wryly, she said... said...

while it's unfair to say that OTR is entirely and everywhere dangerous, it is also dishonest to discount the real dangers of the area north of liberty. when 3CDC says, "In fact, reported crime through 2008 in the area of OTR south of Liberty Street, known as OTR Gateway, is down 37% since 2004," we are obviously meant to assume that the statement is relevant to the released neighborhood crime study. it is not. the area south of liberty is outside the identified high-crime area. crime rates dropping in the hip, increasingly yuppie section of OTR is commendable, but here irrelevant.

further, the "hard work" being done to clean up part of OTR does not address the racialized economic disparity that first created the situation. instead, as the gateway gets polished, the "undesirable" area is simply displaced towards clifton.

John F. said...

Last poster has decent posts. If the local media made similar points, I think I might be nodding my head. Instead, they reported falsely that "Over-the-Rhine" (presumably as a whole) was ranked the most dangerous neighborhood in the nation, with no further details about the source data or methodology. Yeah, I know, it's local news. They don't talk about source data or methodology. But it might have been honest of them to report the boundaries of the supposedly most dangerous neighborhood, instead of calling it "Over-the-Rhine."

Anonymous said...

I live in that "War Zone" area as well on Mulberry St. (and am the safety sector captain for Mulberry, McMicken, Main) and am closely involved in the "cheesy" 3CDC area as well. I live, work and breathe OTR and have the historical perspective of 15 plus years in Greater Downtown that presents to me an obvious picture of incredible improvement both in safety and developement. To say otherwise as this study does flies in the face of the realities on the ground. This is laughable if it weren't so sad.

Michael Redmond

Ronny Salerno said...

Thanks for the shout out Randy! Great write up here at Urban Cincy!

Kevin LeMaster said...

Well said, Randy.

While I don't believe that crime in OTR should be shrugged off entirely, I'm getting really worried about how much vaildity these "lists", based on incomplete data or dubious number crunching, receive in the local and national media.

This goes for the garbage that Forbes/CNN Money, Sperling's and the like continually put out.

Kaid@NRDC said...

It's probably worth mentioning that neither the national rankings nor the statements based on them were peer-reviewed. In addition, news outlets in particular will often seize upon the most attention-grabbing angle possible, and only the most responsible would take the trouble to interview and report the views of parties whose perspectives differ from the sound bite. That's unfortunate, but also the society we're stuck with.

I'm sure the commenters who point out instances of continuing crime in parts of OTR are correct, but so are those who point out the much more favorable trend information and the limitations of the original report. Over time, OTR and its residents will have the opportunity to prove the cynics and critics wrong. If current trends continue, they will succeed. In the meantime, Randy has done a great service by pointing out the other side of the story.

UCstudent said...

Breeden, if crime and safety in OTR is a concern of yours, why don't you come attend the safety sector meeting? OTR consistently accounts for less than 5% of the city wide crime, and the whole of d1 is less than 15%. The police are very attentive to those residents who want to be proactive in helping their neighborhood. They don't however take kindly to people that don't call and don't do their part. So get off your fanny and get involved if you want to see a change!

Anonymous said...

I am really sick of everyone calling the data used in the OTR ranking outdated. The data was from 2005-2007 and from the FBI. It is only 2009, I highly doubt the FBI has any data that is more recent. Just because someone who works for the OTR Chamber of Commerce calls the data outdated it is believed. Don't you think there might be a bit of bias there?

It is also important to note that numbers can be used to prove just about anything a person wants. Take them with a grain of salt and question most information that comes at you.

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