Cutting Through the Hype of Crime Data

This discussion will be the first in a series about how to use crime data, evaluate trends, view headlines and statistics in the mainstream media with healthy skepticism, and, most importantly, use data and modeling to improve operations, lower risks, and properly allocate resources.

LPM: Over the past few years, there have been SO many articles about crime. First, it was about the dramatic rise in some crime types, like murder, during the COVID-19 years. Now, with the latest FBI data release, we keep seeing reports about violence decreasing across the nation. These stats are not resonating with our readers when they look at what is happening at their locations. What are your thoughts on this?

GRANT DRAWVE: Of course, we love seeing headlines about violence decreasing across the nation. The catchy headlines about national numbers provide just that, an overview, but fail to speak to what is going on more granularly within the US. We should not only expect city-level variation, but also neighborhoods experiencing varied levels of violence. In short, nationwide and city-level numbers could indicate violence has decreased, but when examining smaller units of analysis, such as neighborhoods, violence could be increasing. This is incredibly important to understand as it relates to security, guardianship, and risk.

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LPM: We also see reports about the “most dangerous cities in America” or, conversely, “the safest cities in the US.” What are your thoughts on these types of reports?

DRAWVE: Lists about the most dangerous or safest cities often overgeneralize crime occurrences. Many of these lists rely on national numbers that come with their own data limitations, making it inappropriate to categorize cities in such a manner. These lists usually do not delve into the nuances of crime, such as the contextual factors that relate to crime occurrence. Many of these lists do not give enough importance to population or population density when making comparisons. For instance, with smaller cities, a small change in the number of crimes could reflect a larger crime rate increase from year to year. This could be misleading when compared to a larger city. Again, city-level reports do not provide as much actionable information since neighborhoods within a city could be high or low in crime occurrence.

WALTER PALMER: I think everyone ‘in the industry’ understands this point from both personal experience and operating locations across different geographies. But, when your CEO reads an article in the Wall Street Journal that crime is increasing or decreasing across the US, they might not understand what appears to us to be an obvious over-simplification in thinking about crime. It is the job of the practitioner to help them, and the organization, take an unbiased and data-driven approach.

LPM: Many of the articles talk about ‘crime’ as one monolith of activity—crime is up, or it is down. Is this accurate?

DRAWVE: No. Take the most recent FBI numbers from 2022, violence went down; however, when we look at assault offenses occurring at grocery stores and supermarkets, this type of violence increased. This is what I mean when I say crime is nuanced. The example also speaks to the opportunity structure of crime which differs across crime types, leading neighborhoods with different levels of risk. For instance, burglary and aggravated assault are two different crime types with different spatial patterns, leading to varied levels of crime occurrence.

PALMER: We see companies confuse this issue, at times, when they think about their risks and what mitigation strategies to employ. Is their risk model primarily focused on violence against persons, or property crime, or shrinkage? These are all slightly different. I’m not saying they don’t have overlap, but they are not identical. The same is true for countermeasures—are they deploying a guard because of violence or because of shoplifting? Many times, that is not distinguished in the thought process or in the way the guards are deployed.

Drawve is the VP of Research and Innovation for CAP Index—the pioneer and leader in crime risk forecasting—and has over ten years of experience in applied environmental criminology and crime analysis research. Palmer is CAP Index’s COO/EVP, with over thirty-five years of hands-on experience in the AP industry. Drawve and Palmer can be reached at and

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