Ignore safe, dangerous cities list

Published 8:58 pm Friday, January 3, 2020

A recent list ranking the most dangerous cities in Mississippi had Brookhaven in the Top 10. The list was compiled by a company that apparently is trying to sell snacks to travelers.

That’s my guess based on the website’s name: www.roadsnacks.com.

The website states that the article ranking the most dangerous cities is “opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment.”

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I’m not sure what infotainment is, but I’m guessing the company added that language to keep its lawyers happy.

In other words: it ain’t facts so don’t sue us if you don’t like it.

It wasn’t that long ago that a similar ranking had Brookhaven as one of the safest cities in the state.

Both articles were shared on Facebook by hundreds of well-meaning people.

It’s doubtful most of them dug through the data to see if the ranking was accurate. More than likely, most people saw the headline and thought: I knew it!

For people who think Brookhaven gets a bad rap for its crime, a list that promotes the city as one of the safest reinforces perceptions that the Home Seeker’s Paradise is just that. For people who think the city is a criminal’s paradise, the list from www.roadsnacks.com reinforces their ideas of the city. 

In truth, both lists are flawed because they rely on crime statistics from the FBI. And while that seems like a good place to get crime stats, it’s not.

Law enforcement agencies are not required to send crime stats to the FBI for its annual crime report. The most recent FBI data relies on information that 72 of 238 law enforcement agencies provided. That means most agencies in the state did not provide data to the FBI.

The FBI’s report discourages ranking due to changes in participation by law enforcement agencies.

So, these ranking websites rely on partial information from the FBI, which explicitly says: Don’t try to rank cities.

What can be more useful is crime trends in cities that report stats to the FBI consistently. For example, in Brookhaven 93 incidents of violent crime were reported in 2018. That’s up from 63 in 2017. The city provided no data to the FBI in 2016 and 2015. But this approach only works if the stats are accurate, and sometimes they are not.

In 2018, the city reported seven murders or non-negligent homicides. It reported only one in 2017, according to the FBI. But in 2017, a suspect is accused of shooting to death eight people over the Memorial Day weekend.

So, obviously the data is incomplete, which is why the FBI cautions against ranking cities or comparing data.

I understand the appeal of lists that rank cities. We all want to know if we are better or worse than other cities in the state. But using the FBI’s data to create such a list is irresponsible, thus the disclaimer from www.roadsnacks.com that the ranking is “infotainment.”

My advice: ignore any list that ranks cities as “safe” or “dangerous” and instead read your local newspaper if you want to know if crime is a problem in your town. 

Email publisher Luke Horton at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.