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What a Difference Seven Months Makes?

Remember this?

Well, according to the data that we have, there are some neighborhoods where the data don’t go along with what has actually transpired in their community.  We’ve had reductions [in crime] in a lot of those neighborhoods.  And then, some of the neighborhoods that we’ve had an increase in burglary and property crimes, those neighborhoods haven’t had a large outcry. . . I think they just respond to what they hear.  And a lot of times, perception to them is reality.

That was Chief Pennington in late January, saying that residents were over-reacting to crime, that it was just in their heads.

Here is Pennington August 7:

“In 2009, crime is down 10 percent . . . Since I joined the force [in 2002] crime is down 25 percent.”

Ben King, a graduate student at Georgia State who has an excellent blog called Terminal Station, writes:

We’ve all noticed that the police department’s contention that crime is down doesn’t seem to match what we see for ourselves.  I decided to do a little data project to figure out if the official police stats can help shed any light on what is going on.

My first post looks at residential burglaries, but I’ll also be looking at a lot of other types of crime and doing a some different types of analysis than just this first post.

What King found was a 65.1% increase in residential burglaries from 2004 – 2008.  I urge you to read the entire report at Terminal Station, which explains his methodology and includes easy to understand break-outs by Neighborhood Planning Units.  Here is his “short version”:

  • Residential burglaries are up significantly across the city
  • Southwest Atlanta has seen the highest increases in burglaries
  • East Atlanta and Grant Park had high levels of burglaries, and they’ve only gotten worse
  • Mild improvements in 2009 aren’t enough, given the increases of the last three years

Residential burglaries are up across the city

One thing that is lost in the overall numbers that get reported is how specific categories have performed. Residential burglaries are up significantly, both city-wide and even more in certain NPUs. From 2004-2008, the number of home burglaries increased 65%.


It is no surprise, then, that people feel less safe. Their homes are being violated at an alarming rate. This also places the statistics from 2009 into better context than I reported earlier. Through the first six months of 2009, residential burglaries are actually down slightly:


The fact that burglaries are down by 2% so far doesn’t negate three years of double-digit increases from 2006-2008. When it comes to residential burglaries, the city gets a big, fat, FAIL.

To summarize:

Chief Pennington says crime is down.

Ben King says burglaries are up 65% in just the past four years.

Pennington is particularly insistent that crime has not increased in certain neighborhoods with active neighborhood associations and e-mail notification lists, such as East Atlanta and Grant Park.

Ben King says this is certainly not true of burglaries:

NPU W, which includes Grant Park and East Atlanta, saw moderate increase in 2005 and 2007 before also exploding in 2008.  2008 was a bad year for the city as a whole, but particularly bad for NPU W – it brought them in to position as the #1 NPU in the city for residential burglaries for the year.

King and his colleagues are going to crunch the numbers on muggings and car break-ins next.  This is exciting work, and it shows the power of internet-accessible data.  It’s too bad, however, that it takes the volunteer labor of private citizens to do the type of work that ought to be done with the money we pay in taxes.

~~~

8,133 residential burglaries in 2008 is a lot of invaded homes.  Now if only we had on-line access to court dispositions, we would be able to see what percentage of those cases resulted in anyone being convicted of a crime and how many of those convictions resulted in incarceration, however brief.

Then you would know what your government is really doing, or not doing, to stop that guy crawling in your bedroom window.  I think those facts would shock people.

My sense of the way it washes out in the courts is this: juveniles need not worry too much about burglary charges.  They are generally given a pass the first time they get caught, unless violence is involved.  Even their second or third arrests rarely get them time in a juvenile facility (then, when they age out of the juvenile system, those records are sealed).

Once a burglar has “aged out” at 18, he gets another free bite of the apple with his first (the famously abused “first-time offender” category), and sometimes second and third burglary charge, if nobody is paying attention.  After that, his defense attorney counsels him to plead down to drug charges and request community treatment in lieu of incarceration.

It’s sort of like an apprenticeship, you see.  We should charge them tuition.

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