Monday, September 22, 2008

Ogden Crime Statistics... Without the Godfrey Distortions

The article the Standard-Examiner should have written

By Dan Schroeder

After complaining loudly about the recent Standard-Examiner article on crime statistics, I think I owe it to readers to show what a competent handling of the statistics might look like.

Crime statistics for 2008 are not yet officially published, and it's impossible to interpret the bits and pieces provided in the recent news article. However, as reported a couple of months ago, we now have published data for all of 2007.

So I've added this to the earlier data that was analyzed on this blog last year, and produced some new graphs.

Both graphs show data from three sources: the FBI web site, the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification web site, and the Godfrey administration.

The first graph shows the total number of violent crimes (homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults) reported in Ogden each year:

Assuming that the new data are accurate, Ogden saw more violent crimes in 2007 than in any year for which data are readily available (back to 1992). The new data add a third year to the disturbing upward trend since 2004.

The second graph shows the total number of crimes reported in Ogden each year that fall under the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) categories. These include the four categories of violent crimes plus burglary, larceny, auto theft, and arson:


Here the BCI data again show a disturbing upward trend for the last two years, while the FBI data indicate almost no change since 1999.

For those interested in the details, there's plenty more to say...

• These statistics don't include all crimes. Notably absent are simple assaults, fraud, forgery, drug offenses, traffic violations, and a number of less common types of crimes. However, for historical reasons, the eight UCR crime categories are the ones for which the best data are available.

• These graphs simply show the number of crimes--not the crime rate, which is the number of crimes per person. I've done this because you can't calculate the crime rate unless you have accurate population data, and there seems to be no agreement on how Ogden's population has changed between census years.

If we assume that Ogden's population has increased gradually over the time period shown, then graphs of the crime rates would be tipped somewhat more downward (or less upward).

• The graphs that the city (and the Godfrey campaign) published last year were of the crime rates. But these graphs used the 1990 census figure (about 63,900) for Ogden's population through 1999, then used the 2000 census figure (about 77,200) for the population thereafter. Unless you believe that Ogden's population increased by 21% in a single year, this trick created an apparent, but mostly artificial, 21% drop in the crime rates between 1999 and 2000. Conveniently, 2000 was the year that Mayor Godfrey took office.

• The three data sets for the number of UCR crimes (violent or total) should all agree with each other, because they ultimately come from the same source. The Ogden City Police Department collects the data and transmits it to the Utah BCI, which in turn transmits it to the FBI. It's therefore puzzling to see significant differences between the three data sets in recent years.

• The discrepancies between the FBI and BCI data sets may have something to do with the timing of their reports, and the fact that the city can provide updates and corrections to the data as much as a year after it is first transmitted. Last fall I contacted the BCI directly and learned that their latest data for 2006 were in agreement with the FBI's lower numbers, even though the report on the BCI web site contained (and still contains) the higher numbers. It should also be mentioned that the 2007 BCI data are still labeled "preliminary"; their final report won't be published until next month.

• The Godfrey administration's still-lower numbers for 2005 and 2006 also beg for explanation. Some possible clues can be found in the administration's breakdown by specific crime categories, which shows a precipitous decline from 107 robberies in 2004 to only 35 in 2005, and a decline from 849 burglaries in 2004 to only 520 in 2005. Both of these declines seem implausible because there were no such dramatic fluctuations in the previous 12 years, and because neither decline is reflected in the BCI or FBI data. However, the headings in the administration's table are "Robbery/Weapon" and "Burglary/Residential", which may indicate that "strong arm" robberies and nonresidential burglaries are excluded. Such exclusions would be in clear violation of the FBI's UCR standards, and it would be especially misleading to include these crimes up to 2004 but exclude them from 2005 on. Still, although it's impossible to be certain, I'm guessing that this is what the Godfrey administration has done.

• It should be noted that the table on the Ogden City site was posted there on 23 October 2007, the same day that a guest commentary by Jim Hutchins on this subject was printed in the Standard-Examiner. However, graphs and summaries of the same data had already been published in a city-sponsored newspaper ad, in a utility bill insert, and on Mayor Godfrey's campaign web site. The city has been asked (via written GRAMA request) to provide an even more detailed breakdown of the data for recent years, but has refused.

• During his campaign last year, Mayor Godfrey repeatedly claimed credit for reducing Ogden's total crime rate by 23%, and for reducing Ogden's violent crime rate by 43%. The truth is that both the total crime rate and the violent crime rate have been approximately flat since Godfrey first took office. After the errors in the administration's methodology have been corrected, any remaining changes since 1999 are small compared to the uncertainties due to differing data sets, the lack of good population data, and the random fluctuations that one would expect from year to year.

• The July 25 Standard-Examiner article was deficient in several ways. The text of the article reported that robberies and aggravated assaults increased by 19% from 2006 to 2007, even though the raw data (provided in an accompanying table) indicate an increase of 24%. More importantly, the text of the article failed to point out that this increase fell on top of similar increases in violent crime during the previous two years, resulting in a total violent crime increase of 64% since 2004 (according to the BCI data). This article was based entirely on the BCI data, with no indication that other sources (the FBI and the Godfrey administration) might differ. The graph accompanying the article didn't even include the new 2007 data, presumably because the preliminary BCI report didn't provide a population figure from which one could compute the crime rate. And finally, the article quoted Mayor Godfrey saying he actually knew the 2007 crime statistics would be higher and "attempted to communicate [this] to everyone a year ago," with no attempt (on the part of the newspaper) to verify whether there ever was such a communication and no mention of the multiple communications that the Godfrey administration and campaign sent out last year, claiming that the crime rates had dropped by large percentages.

• The September 15 Standard-Examiner article was even worse, because it labeled the data in a way that's impossible to interpret, and because the newspaper obviously allowed the city to cherry-pick the exact data (from a particular neighborhood, during a particular time period) that it wanted released.

• Ultimately, none of this data is any better than the methodology used to collect it. Even those of us who have never attended a crime conference can easily imagine that minor differences in protocol and classification of crimes might create noticeable differences in the statistics. There could also be inconsistencies from year to year in the fraction of crimes that get reported to police. And finally, as was pointed out by Professor Wadman in the recent news article, the underlying causes behind rising and falling crime statistics are extremely complex. So in the end, Ogden's crime statistics don't show any discernible trends that can reasonably be blamed on (or credited to) Mayor Godfrey or anyone else.

It's quite clear, however, that the mayor has made a practice of distorting and politicizing crime statistics for his personal benefit.

23 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

Once again, thanks Dan. This is the sort of vetting of official claims that a good newspaper would consider its responsibility, not its readers' responsibility. Of course, that would require a paper to have at least one news editor, or the reporter assigned to such stories, to be familiar enough with the use of statistics to read such statistics-based claims as Greiner and Godfrey make intelligently... and skeptically.

Sorry you had, yet again, to do the Standard Examiner's job for it. And damn glad, again, that you did.

citizen said...

Has the SE picked up Dan's info regarding the golf course committee?

Will they pick up these latest data?

I doubt it. The Gondola Examiner. Official press office of the mayor.

Curmudgeon said...

The SE may have another problem with numbers in a front page story this morning. The story, about the need for more low-rent apartment units in Davis County, by Bryon Saxton, reports this:

Those making less than $52,240 per household per year, or about 347,000 households statewide, qualify as low income households, Glenn [Division of Housing and Community Development program director] said.

That number seem remarkably high to me, that family with a household income [the income of all those living in the household added together] totaling over $52,000 a year qualified as a "low income" household in Utah, eligible for public assistance in paying rent.

I pulled up the Utah state tax form that low income families need to file for tax abatement help with their rent. It says that to total income of all household members must total less than $27,557 to be a low-income family eligible for tax abatement help to pay rent. Here is the line from the form. [Note: "Line I" referred to below lists total income from all residents of the household]:

Note: You do not qualify for low income or homeowner relief if Line I exceeds $27,557.

If Mr. Saxton reported the number offered by Mr. Glenn, without checking it [two minutes of googling "Utah Low Income Household" turned up the tax form quoted above], it seems like another example of an SE reporter simply passing on to readers a claim by an official without doing even rudimentary checking of the claim. Of course, it is possible that different state rent subsidy programs have different eligibility standards. But I'd be very surprised to find that in Utah, a household income of $52,000 a year qualifies people for rental assistance.

Mr. Saxton's story can be found here.

Citizen too said...

The SE has at least one major fault -- IT TAKES GODFREY AT HIS WORD! It believes everything the lying little bastard feeds them!

Dan, thank you for the excellent report of the ACTUAL crime statistics. Thanks for your diligence in obtaining the facts and the truth. We are indebted to you.

citizen said...

Curm,

Obviously, the number was odd enough that you looked further. One would suppose it would have prompted almost anybody to do so.

I appreciate the local paper but they do seem to be strangely incurious and accepting of government statements.

Hardly what our founders envisioned from a free press, I suspect.

Southsider said...

Curm,

Census numbers from http://www.epodunk.com/cgi-bin/incomeOverview.php?locIndex=22835 show Median Household Income for Davis County as $53,726, which is very close to the $52,240 figure reported in the story. Bet he got the wrong number.

Curmudgeon said...

Southsider:

Sounds like it.

And of course I had, when I read your post, to go find out what the devil www.epodunk.com was. A very useful site, as it turns out. Have bookmarked it for future reference. TY.

Curmudgeon said...

Citizen:

You wrote: I appreciate the local paper but they do seem to be strangely incurious and accepting of government statements. Hardly what our founders envisioned from a free press, I suspect.

Exactly.

Bill C. said...

The gondola examinar, like lying little matty, is too pre-occupied with promoting the fallacy of high adventure artificial recreation, that to print anything opposed to the creator of the myth is not in their best interests. It's this myth that they cited for their ringing endorsement of the the little liar. It's this myth that the little liar is so pre-occupied with that he has no time to spend on doing his job.
Crime has not declined and I don't believe they have even filled those police positions that were unfilled during the last campain. He couldn't even accurately give the number of cops on the force.
But what would I know? A veladrome and giant icecicle are far more important than public safety, ask Don Porter and Lee Carter.
Oh, I forgot about the gondola hotel, complete with wading pool and other fine amenities.

Deidre said...

It's obvious that the SE is run by bean-counters.

The first thing they've tossed out in reporting the news is "fact checking."

It's too expensive to report the true facts, apparently.

Bill C. said...

I wonder if the historic district height restrictions are possibly a hindurance to the icecicle and veladrome?

WhatWardRUin said...

curm;

please pardon the off topic post, but i wanted to make sure you got the site where you can view the state campground rules as promised:

Rule R392-300. Recreation Camp Sanitation

tthe sections that i believe have relevance are under definitions. godfrey has proposed a campground that meets the definition "semi-developed". that definition establishes the same ammenities that godfrey initially stated would be in the campground, including flush toilets. rule 4.1 states that flush toilets will be discharged to a public sewer if within 300-feet. that is the case here, so that type of facility is in the price range of over $100,000. rule 3.3 says that the water system must be designed by a licensed professional engineer prior to construction. city crews have installed the water pipes and tapped the main without any design, let alone one done by a professional engineer. Rule 2.1 requires the operator (city) to controll the conduct of camp occupants. that sounds like fairly extensive monitoring by someone in a responsible position. even if godfrey stripped out every bit of landscaping the cost of this project exceeds $100,000. his claim that the staffs $14,000 estimate is inflated is arrogant and totally without merit. all the posturing in the world can not change the fact that he broke the rules. i'm told there is a neighborhood meeting this wednesday in the parking lot west of ogden stadium. aside from the fact that this should be in the form of a public hearing at a scheduled city council meeting, i don't think this meeting was given the proper notice for a public meeting; just sort of thrown together at the last minute.

curmudgeon said...

WhatWard:
Thank you very much for the link. Will go look as soon as I get back from a departmental event starting in about half an hour. Want to have the text in hand for purposes of talking with Council members, others, about the proposed cg. Thanks again.

Monotreme said...

Dan S.:

Thank you for doing this. I have felt like the Lone Ranger on this story for the last year.

I was surprised, and not a little appalled, that the S-E and its editorial board left me twisting in the wind after my last Op-Ed piece.

My level of trust with the S-E, and with the Chief/State Senator and Mayor/soon-to-be-Senator-in-Law, is currently quite low.

Monotreme said...

I forgot to mention that no other jurisdiction in Utah has the same problem with crime statistics as Ogden does.

This was well-referenced in my previous posts on the subject.

Makes you wonder, dunnit?

fearless said...

Fearless said,

Personally, I spent 20 years in fighters with a mortality rate so high in the early years, no insurance agency would sell us life insurance.

A full year being shot at everyday (Vietnam) made me immune to relative civil threats and gangland random murder.

But last night (21 Sept) for the first time in my 64 yrs. my wife convinced me that driving in Ogden was "stupid" and unsafe. I actually felt a twenge of fear due to many years under Godfrey's regime and the crime increases.

We decided it was time, after 30 years here, that if we could not feel safe simply driving in Ogden while out for "a date", it is time to leave this area and State. Just too many lies being tossed about by career hucksters, politicians, and products of the local "culture".

Time to move back to "America". Deseret is doomed to the incestuous results of inbred non thinkers and LDS gnomes parading around like arrogant smiling mindless sheep. Godgrey and his ilk are simply representative and more common than the exception. The future of Utah is at the feet of Utards who are trained to pride themselves on living off "non- (LDS) believers they call "Gentiles"...gee, that is original!

dan s. said...

fearless,

Everyone has to make their own decisions about taking risks. For myself, I feel pretty safe bicycling through downtown Ogden on a regular basis. It's orders of magnitude safer than the north St. Louis neighborhood where my mom grew up--though not nearly as safe as the small college town in Iowa where I lived for two years before moving here, where nobody locked their doors.

If you browse the FBI web site you'll find that Utah's crime rates are among the nation's lowest--though Ogden's are high compared to most of Utah.

dan s. said...

monotreme,

Good point about how the discrepancies between FBI and BCI statistics seem to be unique to Ogden. This may be because the OPD has been told to go back and reclassify as many crimes as possible to make the crime rates look lower. Or it may be simply because they make a lot of mistakes using the fancy computer software that keeps track of the statistics, and then someone has to go back and fix the mistakes. From a distance it's often hard to distinguish between dishonesty and mere incompetence. I've certainly mistaken one for the other before.

see, I Told you so said...

I'm so glad that crime is down in Ogden and that the bullet holes in my neighbors house in not real. Or that any of these shooting are real in ogden because gofrey said we live in safe hell hole here.

Monotreme said...

Dan S.:

It's true what you say about dishonesty vs incompetence. I'm willing to consider both, and I forgive incompetence pretty easily -- having lived with myself for this long now, I had better.

Still, the stonewalling you and I have both received on this issue raises my hackles. There have been ample opportunities for the parties involved to come clean and admit to (honest) error. Had Chief Greiner agreed to take my phone call a year ago, I may not have written the OpEd piece I did. Yet, he refused, stonewalled, lied about the fact that he had stonewalled, called me names in public which I refused to dignify with a response, and then to top it all off continued his lying ways and flicked away your GRAMA request like a piece of lint.

All that adds up to aggravated incompetence at the very least.

dan s. said...

monotreme,

The evidence makes it clear that there's plenty of dishonesty involved here; incompetence won't explain everything. But for the specific issue of the discrepancy between the FBI and BCI numbers, I'm still open to the incompetence theory.

Waterboy said...

It is no secret in the PD that Greiner LOVES statics. It has been said on many occasion that he will send numbers back to the bean counter to come up with "better" numbers. Or he just interprets them himself before passing them on.

Some things to consider about the crime rates that I find interesting.

If a person is shot or stabbed (meaning the suspect made an attempt to murder the victim) and the victim does not die (even if in a vegetative state) then it simply is not murder. It gets classifies as "aggravated assault". Medical technology is improving daily. Doctors can save lives better now than they could even 10 years ago. What would have killed someone then is survivable now. So instead of having a murder statistic there is an aggravated assault statistic. There is not an "attempted murder" statistic.

Another thing about the crime statistics is that there has been a lot of press lately about the lower rates in Ogden and that the "crime reduction unit" has been a huge influence in that. Well they are targeting one specific area of the city. 20th to 30th Streets from Washington to Monroe. They are doing nothing for the crime in the rest of the city. Vehicle burglaries, assaults, and other crimes are not being reduced in all of the other areas of the city.

I heard on the police scanner a few weeks ago that someone had called dispatch to speak to an officer about moving to Ogden and the crime rates. Dispatch sent the call to an officer over the radio. One of the police supervisor's got on the radio to remind the officer that he "represents the city". That sounded like a subtle hint to let the officer know not to be honest about it or he could be reprimanded.

Go figure.

dan s. said...

I've received a private email from someone who wonders why I didn't work harder to estimate the crime rates (number of crimes per person). As explained in the main article, there's no agreement over how Ogden's population has changed between census years. But we do have census data for 1990 and 2000, so it would make sense to just do a linear interpolation to obtain a population estimate for each year in the 1990's. The problem is what to do with 2001 through 2008. If you take the same linear trend from the 90's and extrapolate it to 2007, you get a population estimate of about 90,000 for 2007. That's much larger than any other estimate I've seen, so I decided that this isn't a very reasonable approach. I suppose we'll find out in 2010 what Ogden's population has really been doing since 2000. Meanwhile, I decided it would be better to plot the data in a way that's easier to understand.

If anyone out there would like to compute the crime rates using their favorite population estimates, I'd be happy to provide a copy of my spreadsheet to use as a starting point. Rudi knows how to reach me.

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