"Safe" is so relative.
January 26, 2013 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Best statistical resources for comparing crime by neighborhoods?

In examining different cities to settle down in, I am of course looking at their crime rates. This is proving to be a bit tricky though. I don't like looking at each city's crime maps, because it's hard for me to interpret the data. Little symbols just don't give me an accurate sense of what that place would feel like, until we get to extremes.

I like using neighborhoodscout.com, because they give each city a crime score which presumably correlates to an overall measuring system. So I know that if City A has a score of 50, and I've lived there, presumably City B with a score of 40 is somewhat similar in feel.

What I don't like however is that City C and City D might have both scored a rate of 20, but City D's crime is mostly concentrated in a few violent neighborhoods and a lot of that crime is gang on gang. Whereas City C's crime might be more equally spread throughout many neighborhoods, in which case my family would actually be safer in City D.

Another flaw is that I can't see scores for specific neighborhoods (without purchasing an account, which I'd rather avoid if possible.) They shade the neighborhoods different colors for different safety levels, but is that relative to the city itself or the nation as a whole? In other words, is City A's safest neighborhood really the same safety level as City E's safest neighborhood (who scored a 10, say)?

I want to see crime rates by neighborhood so that I can compare them to other neighborhoods I've lived in.

Sorry for the long-winded explanation - hoping my thought process is helpful here. In summary, I'm looking for:

- NOT a map that shows where crimes occurred over a period of time
- a list of NUMBERS of crimes that took place, and ideally percentage/rate too (aka 5,000 violent crimes which is a rate of 1 per 1000 residents, etc)
- listed by NEIGHBORHOODS, not just cities

If anyone is able to wade through my nitpicking and suggest a helpful resource, thank you!
posted by ohsnapdragon to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports will give you crime rates by city. The linked table has number of violent and property crimes and population for each city with a police agency reporting to the FBI. You can get crime rates from there. These just cover the 8 index crimes, so no information on drug crimes or more esoteric crimes (e.g. prostitution), but since, for example, property crime tends to be correlated with drug crime, I think they are quite useful data.

I don't know if or where neighborhood crime data is freely available.
posted by deadweightloss at 6:02 PM on January 26, 2013

Despite some searching in the past I've never found a good map-based visualization of crime rates across cities at a neighborhood level that is transparent in the way it's calculating data and flexible in which kind of crimes are displayed. I've especially never understood those mapping sites that throw hundreds of little symbols on the screen and think they're being informative, like you mention.

I'd be careful with neighborhoodscout.com. I just looked at the map for the city I live in, Long Beach, CA, and it's ridiculously inaccurate. Some of the most crime-ridden areas of the city are ranked as "safest" and vice versa. I've done some amateur mapping based on the city's released crime data, so I know this for a fact.

As time intensive as it is, you might be forced to narrow down your potential city list via other factors and then pore through the neighborhood level crime reports cities often release to make accurate comparisons.
posted by Defenestrator at 7:02 PM on January 26, 2013

At least in Canada, you can find some pretty good data from Statistics Canada. They have crime indices by for each metropolitan area. They also have maps of crime density in Montreal neighbourhoods and Toronto neighbourhoods, probably other cities too. StatsCan is well known for being competent data gatherers.
posted by vasi at 8:46 PM on January 26, 2013

There is really no such thing as reliable crime data. As long as reporting is not complete and absolute, and as long as geographic enforcement differentials exist, you won't find any genuinely good data (barring, of course, areas with exceptionally high violent crime rates and other anomalous things like that).
posted by broadway bill at 8:58 PM on January 26, 2013

I have to agree with broadway bill. I'm part of a neighborhood organization that tracks crime and even though we have a good police department with good records, what they release publicly is only slightly useful at more than a general illustration.

In terms of city-to-city comparisons, though, the jury's completely out. State laws vary; police department reporting varies. Beyond looking at things in the aggregate this is not a very useful thing to start comparing at a detailed level, because the basis is so disparate. Even an individual police department can vary by district/precinct; if a crime cleanup push occurs, that boosts arrest records, for example, but this only showing reported crime and suddenly there were more cops to take reports. Some departments may not have the resources to give neighborhood data so you get citywide. Some cities may have sloppy record-keeping period.

I really feel this is a forest and trees situation. A very reliable marker for the safety of a neighborhood is in fact property values. Safer neighborhoods are more desirable. Focusing on this in a detailed neighborhood way is actually a case where more data is less useful.
posted by dhartung at 11:44 AM on January 27, 2013

Assuming you'll visit some of these cities before you move, here's the method that has never failed me: drive around until you find an area where you don't have to go inside to pay before you pump gas for cash. That's where you want to live.
posted by dinger at 3:23 PM on January 27, 2013

For anyone else who may be looking for data, I found areavibes.com. It does display statistics for neighborhoods - I don't know how accurate it is but it's a starting point. Thanks everyone!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2013

Glad I "helped."

For comparisons sake, although areavibes.com isn't perfect it seems a lot better than neighborhoodscout for Long Beach and the LA area. At least at the neighborhood level (definitely no way that Long Beach as a whole is more dangerous than ~90% of cities).
posted by Defenestrator at 11:05 PM on January 28, 2013

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