Friday, June 5, 2009

Detroit's sloppy murder math

Recognizing that a sunshine policy is the best policy, the Baltimore police make homicide statistics readily available. Charm City's popular weekly newspaper and even its ailing daily chart homicides for public view, on easy to access murder maps. This is all smart stuff for a city that for years has struggled with serious violence. Knowing your problem, and where your problem is, can be an important first step to getting things fixed.

Detroit knows it has a problem, but prefers to pretend otherwise. The stressed-out police force has no similar policy, the local media do not keep faithful records. Heck, we can't even get the numbers right. When the FBI's latest report on crime in the nation was released, Detroit fessed up: Our numbers were too low. Oops. Our bad. We're actually #1 in per capita killings.

Kym Worthy is pissed. How, she asks, can we begin to solve a problem, if we can't even keep proper records? Of course, record keeping was never Detroit's strong suit; among other reasons why, perhaps it's easier to cope when you aren't constantly having your face shoved in depressing statistics.

It's time for the police department to assign someone to be in charge of the body count; it's time for, say, Metro Times to make itself useful and follow the Baltimore weekly's lead. It seems like a project the News might enjoy - show the people just how violent Detroit actually is, and where exactly the violence is taking place.

There are two reasons this sort of grim tallying of the bodies is useful. One, it will quickly show outsiders how safe much of the city actually is. As you learn quickly in Detroit, not all blighted areas are dangerous. Some of them are just empty.

An informal (and incomplete, thanks to impossible standards of record keeping) survey of homicides in the city over the past year shows the lion's share of murders taking place out on the West Side, past Livernois, where more than half of Detroit's population currently lives.

You could count the number of reported killings Downtown, in Midtown and the East Side below I-94 on two hands, tops. (Reported being the operative word here.) North of I-94, the East Side remains as lawless as ever, but with the population dwindling there so dramatically, even large sections of that area show less violence than many expect. Southwest Detroit performs reasonably well, also.

To get the ball rolling, I pulled together this map in 2008, followed by this one for 2009, which reports through early May.

Any reporter interested in taking the reins should feel free to do so. It's a little time consuming.


D-Tales said...

Great job on the maps! Exhaustive work I'm sure, but interesting to see it all laid out like that.

Pam said...

Great Job with the maps. Don't give up on this.

weakyknee said...

This is a fantastic idea. What sources did you use for your maps?

David said...

Sources I listed on the maps - all local media outlets.

Cham said...

Detroit has a homicide map now. That is one heck of a nice map, which allows for clustering. I wish Baltimore had clusters.