The Problems with Crime Data
Crime is consistently a top concern for Americans. When choosing a new place to live, the safety of you and your family is a key priority. Crime rates are a common measure that people consider when thinking about safety, but these rates can be misleading for several reasons. Crime is inconsistently reported across the country and is often not reported at all. Luckily, there are several other measures you can look at when considering the safety of your new home.
National Crime Data
The FBI collects crime statistics from police agencies across the country and compiles them into their annual reports. Police departments voluntarily report these numbers; if an agency does not submit data to the FBI, then there is no way to compare it to other jurisdictions. There are over 18,000 individual police departments in the country, and almost 3,000 of them did not report crime data to the FBI in 2020. Another problem is that different jurisdictions will have different criteria for determining crime categories. What may be an aggravated assault in one city could be a simple assault in another. For these reasons, the FBI recommends that their crime data not be used to compare cities across the country.
What often gets overlooked in examining crime data is how much of crime goes unreported. The majority of crime, including violent crime, never gets reported to the police. Crime rates for cities do not show a complete picture of what is taking place.
A common reason victims give for not reporting a crime is that they did not think the police would do anything about it. Communities with a healthy relationship between the police and the public might show higher crime rates simply because people report crimes more because they trust the police. But communities with this kind of healthy relationship are more likely to be safer than ones with a great deal of mistrust between the public and the police.
Without knowing how much of the crime is going unreported at each location, it's impossible to accurately compare cities based on crime rates.
Other Measures for Safety
Even with all of these problems, it's still important to consider the safety of a location that you would like to move to. There are many other ways to find happy and healthy communities other than a potentially misleading crime rate.
Healthy communities have strong social services, like high-ranked schools, libraries, and ample green space. It can also be helpful to look at factors like poverty, housing stability, and education levels (the number of individuals with college degrees). Typically, areas with higher population densities also experience more crime.
Within a city, crime rates can vary tremendously from neighborhood to neighborhood. If it's possible, take a walk or a drive around different areas. This can tell you much more about the safety of these areas than a crime rate statistic ever will.
It's also important to consider that crime, while rare, can affect any neighborhood. Areas with low poverty and high real estate values can be attractive targets for burglars because there is more valuable property to steal. No matter where you live, it's helpful to practice a few basic safety tips.
Remember to lock your doors for both your home and your vehicle. Unlocked car break-ins are one of the most common types of personal theft in the country, and they are easily avoidable. Be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are out late at night, and avoid places where you don't feel comfortable.
It can feel daunting to try and find the safest location to live for you and your family. There is a lot of misleading information that can do more harm than good. But by practicing these safety steps and looking at a few additional indicators for the community, you can be sure you're making the best decision.