Sunday, January 26, 2014

What do crime stats really tell us about crime in Nashville?

Recently, a local law firm got my permission to use one of my photos on their website. This happens periodically with the volume of photos I take along with my general willingness to share. A couple of years ago a Starbucks art designer asked for permission to use another photo.

I visited the law firm's website to get a feel for how they used the photo, but once I got there I was more interested in a recent post to their blog regarding crime in Nashville.

The gist is that we are told that crime is down in Nashville, but we should not let appearances fool us. Crimes stats, as with any stats, can be manipulated to express messages that we would not necessarily take away if we viewed them raw or packaged in other ways:

Some of you may already be familiar with COMPSTAT, a statistics based approach to crime fighting employed famously in the fictional Baltimore Police of HBO’s The Wire ....

I found out that the Metro Nashville Police Department had engaged the COMPSTAT program in its war on crime, which left me wondering where the similarities ended. If you believe the Nashville Police Chief, and his press release repeated in the Tennessean, Nashville crime is low. However, this recent New York Times article, in which retired police officers admitted that police officers, and even detectives, manipulated statistics under enormous departmental pressure, makes me question: is crime really down? Doesn't feel like it to me.

Importantly, I think the post is also suggesting that we rely on our own experience and anecdotal knowledge of the impact on the lives of those connected to us. While packaged as more objective and reliable, stats can be juiced and interpreted to pull talking points benefiting Metro officials who present them to us.

Do you believe crime in Nashville is really down? Or are the stats glossing over real problems that go ignored in your community?

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