News stories like this one seem to suggest that the FBI just designated Chicago the murder capital of the United States.
Move over New York, the Second City is now the murder capital of America.
According to new crime statistics released this week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Chicago had more homicides in 2012 than any other city in the country. There were 500 murders in Chicago last year, the FBI said, surpassing New York City, which had 419.
In 2011, there were 515 homicides in the Big Apple, compared with the 431 in Chicago.
But as the Washington Post noted, residents of Chicago and New York were much less likely to be victims of a homicide than some Michigan residents. In Flint, for example, there were 63 killings — a staggering number when you consider Flint’s population is 101,632 — “meaning 1 in every 1,613 city residents were homicide victims.” In Detroit, where 386 killings occurred in 2012, 1 in 1,832 were homicide victims.
Check out the FBI press release announcing the 2012 figures: there is no mention of a “murder capital.” In fact, the press release seems to caution against the sort of sensationalistic interpretations that are implied by “murder capital”:
Each year when Crime in the United States is published, some entities use the figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment.
To their credit, a number of these news stories include figures like those in the quoted section above: the murder rate is probably more important than the actual number of murders since populations can vary quite a bit. But, that still doesn’t stop media sources from leading with the “murder capital” idea.
My conclusion: this is an example of an irresponsible approach to crime statistics. Even if murders were down everywhere, the media could still designate a “murder capital” referring to whatever city had the most murders.