Springfield Councilman Matthew Simpson said it irks him to see an online blog “inappropriate(ly)” using data to present Springfield in a negative light.
During Monday night’s City Council meeting, Simpson warned against taking an article by 24/7 Wall Street – which ranks Springfield No. 8 on a list of “worst cities to live in” – at face value.
“We fall on the worst cities list based on what is, frankly, a deeply flawed and lazy use of data,” he said.
Simpson, who is the director of research, strategic planning and grant development at Ozarks Technical Community College, said he works with data for a living.
Data show crime is down, councilman says
“If you look at the actual statistics, we are running down (crime) month-to-month, we are running down crime year-to-date,” Simpson said.
Police Chief Paul Williams tweeted during the meeting that in Springfield, crime is down 24 percent compared with this time last year. The impact is felt in all areas, he said.
Police data shows that year-to-date, violent crime is down about 8 percent and property crime has dropped 26 percent.
24/7 Wall Street said its rankings were based on a number of different factors, including but not limited to unemployment, median income, poverty, air quality, average commute times, risk of natural disasters.
24/7 Wall Street is a content syndication partner with USA Today. The News-Leader is part of the USA Today network.
For Springfield’s unflattering ranking, 24/7 Wall Street specifically called out high rates of violent and property crime, as well a poverty rate of about 25 percent. Crime information, 24/7 Wall Street said, was taken from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report. The percentage of people living in poverty are estimates from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.
The FBI warns against ranking cities strictly on crime stats, because the comparisons don’t take into account important demographic and geographic factors.
“These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region,” the FBI says. “Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.”
Furthermore, reporting numbers for the Uniform Crime Report is voluntary, so not every city in the country is included.
24/7 Wall Street has chosen to ignore the FBI’s warning.
The blog post said in Springfield, there were 1,345 violent crimes for every 100,000 city residents in 2016, “triple the U.S. violent crime rate.”
Springfield’s property crime rate, at 8,518 property crimes for every 100,000 people in 2016, came in “the third highest” in the U.S., according to the blog.
Look at how to improve rather than ranking, expert advises
Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said rankings “should not be taken very seriously.”
“I don’t think these city comparisons are very useful because knowing the city someone lives in tells you next to nothing about someone’s risk for crime,” Rosenfeld said.
He said that the likelihood of a person becoming a crime victim is more strongly dependent by his or her neighborhood, age and a variety of other lifestyle factors, than city of residence.
However, he was surprised to see that in 2017, Springfield’s rate of violent and property crimes were nearly triple the average rates of similarly sized cities in the country.
According to the Missouri Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Springfield had 2,258 violent crimes last year. That includes homicide, rape, attempted rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
In 2017, there were nearly 15,000 property crimes, which includes burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
The numbers suggest that Springfield does have a “crime problem,” said Rosenfeld.
The post by 24/7 Wall Street also talked about poverty.
“A large share of Springfield residents struggle financially. About one in every four city residents live below the poverty line, the largest share of any large city in the state,” 24/7 Wall Street’s post said.
Another program by the U.S. Census Bureau, called the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates Program, lists a lower poverty rate. The estimate for Greene County’s 2016 poverty rate was 16.5 percent. That would be a drop from the 2014 estimate of 20.6 percent.
Rosenfeld said high poverty is often related to high crime.
“I would say, forget about the rankings, but get to work on the conditions that are elevating your crime rates,” he said.
Simpson said that public safety is a “top priority” for Springfield.
“We continue to have progress to make, but those rankings use data in the way that precisely the FBI says, the (Uniform Crime Report) says is not supposed to be used and they just do not represent the true state of Springfield, nor do they represent the great efforts of our law enforcement and first responders,” Simpson said.
“I appreciate, unlike in the place that 24/7 (Wall Street) is based, in Springfield we are statistically literate and we know what the real situation is,” he said.
Springfield and 24/7 Wall Street
Springfield has made it onto other 24/7 Wall Street rankings lists in recent years.
In September 2016, 24/7 Wall Street called Springfield the 11th most dangerous city in the country. It said that Springfield had the highest incidence of rape in the country in 2015.
At the time, Williams said law enforcement’s efforts to encourage all possible victims to file reports as well as Springfield’s large percentage of college-age residents could be a contributor to the city’s seemingly high rape numbers.
In 2011, 24/7 Wall Street ranked Springfield as having the third-fastest job growth in the country.
(Read the original story shared by the Springfield News-Leader here.)