Our thriving metropolis here in Wilmington, Delaware experienced two more homicides overnight. That’s right, if the news report is correct, from just past midnight through NOW (11:20 AM, 31 August, 2014), two more people were gunned down. Read the news account here if you’re so inclined.
The report states that there have been 19 SHOOTING homicides to date in our fine city. This is contextually accurate, but unintentionally misleading. FACTUALLY, we’ve had 20 total homicides to date; one of them was a knifing.
However, to me, a homicide is a homicide; whether the killers do it with knives, rocks, or whatever, the victims are still dead.
But the fact is that gun violence in this country is rampant. So, I can see the validity behind distinguishing gun-related homicides from other methods of killing people.
And, on a reliability note, The News Journal employs several crime reporters. But, while I’m not that familiar with most of them, I AM familiar with two of them: Cris Barrish and Esteban Parra.
For me, if either of these names is attached to a crime report—either as the lead reporter or as a contributor—there’s generally no need to check the facts.
Keep in mind, however, that the operant term is GENERALLY; it’s always wise to spot-check occasionally. “In God We Trust” is a nice sentiment, but for me, EVERYONE else gets audited.
And in the interests of complete candor, I’m not all that sure about God, either.
Another pet peeve of mine is the variation with which crime statistics are reported, especially whenever the topic is CITY-to-CITY stats. It isn’t that the statistics are inaccurate; in most cases they’re not. On the other hand, they’re often quite confusing and seemingly contradictory.
For example, here’s a site that lists the top 100 most dangerous cities in the country. It lists the cities from the least dangerous (#100) to the most dangerous (#1). And NOTE: Wilmington, Delaware is listed at #15!
It’s basically a real-estate site. It doesn’t list a date, so I can’t question the accuracy of its numbers. I can, however, criticize the quantitative way in which they report the numbers (incidents per 1,000 residents).
Look at the Violent Crimes section. Under murders (aka homicides), they list 25 of them and give the stats as 0.36 per 1,000 population based on a city population of 72,088 people. Here’s some questions.
What the hell is a 0.36 of a homicide? Is that 0.36 of a homicide less dead than someone who is a FULL homicide? And, precisely, WHAT is the point of reporting these numbers in terms of 1,000 residents instead of the usual 100,000 residents?
To the last question above, I have my suspicions, but I can’t prove them; so I’ll just give a pass.
But as to the first two questions, listing homicides in terms of a number per 1,000 people is just plain silly. It’s an exercise in mathematically-induced mental masturbation at best and intentionally misleading at worst.
I receive emails on a regular basis that inform me that I can’t compare Wilmington’s homicide rate to New York City’s or Philadelphia’s using homicides per 100,000 residents because Wilmington has a population that is WAY less than 100,000 people.
The folks who tell me this tend to be what a longtime friend and colleague of mine, Bruce B—he knows who he is—likes to call them: math “phobes.” They’re people who can’t handle math that’s more complex than single digit addition, subtraction, multiplication, and SHORT division.
IF the point is city-to-city homicide rate comparisons, we have to use like terms, which is a homicide rate per 100,000 people.
Nor can we ignore time specificities and actual population numbers, even when specific populations are less than 100,000 people.
Now, since I don’t have to placate a boss who’s constantly hovering over me with more stuff to do—I don’t need a job; I’m comfortably retired since January 2003—I have the time to keep my own crime statistics.
For example, in order to arrive at a realistic city-to-city comparative picture of Wilmington’s homicide rate for the year 2014 TO DATE, we can’t ignore the facts that the year still has several months to go, AND that Wilmington’s population is way less than 100,000 people. Here’s how we do that.
First, as of early this morning, we’ve had 20-homicides. BUT, the year is far from over. If we divide the Julian Day number, 243, by 365, the total days in a year, we arrive at 0.6657, it means that we’re only 66.57% of the way through 2014.
Second, Wilmington’s current population is about 71,690 people, way less than 100,000 people. We can’t ignore this fact. Here’s why.
If the population of a given city is, say, 1.5-million people and the number of homicides for that city is, say 300, the homicide rate is 20 per 100,000 residents.
Simply divide 1.5-million by 100,000 to arrive at the number of 100,000 groupings (15 in this case), and then divide the 15 into the number of homicides (300 in this case). We’ll arrive at 20 homicides per 100,000 residents.
But, since Wilmington’s population is only 71,690 people, divide that number by 100,000 to arrive at 0.71690 (the number of its 100,000 groupings.
For 2014 to date, Wilmington has had 20-homicides. But we’re only 66.57% of the way through the year. So, we have to divide our 20-homicides to date by 0.6657 to arrive at the number of potential homicides for the FULL year, assuming the current trend continues. The answer is 30.04, but we call it 30!
But then, Wilmington has a population of only 71,690 people. We have to divide that 30-homicides by 0.71690 (71,690 divided by 100,000). The answer is now 41.85—but we’ll call it 41.
So, if the current homicide trend continues, Wilmington, Delaware is looking at, potentially, 41 homicides per 100,000 residents. And comparing this to New York City’s or Philadelphia’s rate, Wilmington looks more like Somalia.
Have a safe and happy holiday!