Episodic events at the beginning of the year should not be cast as signs that the City is in the midst of a violent crime frenzy
After a shocking triple homicide earlier in the week and another gun death Friday evening brought the Minneapolis homicide tally for 2010 to five after just eight days, violent crime has once again became headline news in the local media.
One difficulty that is presented when sensationalistic stories riddle the news media (and the greater community) is how to interpret these tragic episodic incidents and whether or not they are signs of longer-term crime trends the City will face this year.
For example, the temptation is strong to place greater emphasis on these violent crimes because they occurred at the beginning of the year (and decade).
The danger of doing so should be obvious. To use these episodic events as projections for the level of crime Minneapolis will face this year would mean that a crime wave has descended upon the city and its homicide records will be shattered:
· Through the first eight days of 2010, the City of Minneapolis was on ‘pace’ for 228 homicides for the year, which would be 135 percent higher than the city’s all-time record of 97 murders in 1995.
· The City was also on ‘pace’ for 19 murders in the month of January – nearly double the highest number of murders the city has seen in a month since 1999 (10, in June 2005).
Despite these recent homicides, the truth still is that murder is an extremely rare crime. And when a few homicides take place within a short time span, they tend to present a skewed view of how the long-term trends will likely play out for the City.
In short, because these murders occurred in a convenient ‘frame’ for the media – the start of a new year – their predictive meaning of how violent crime will play out in Minneapolis in 2010 is elevated over longer, historical trend data that is much more telling.
For example, back in January 2007, Minneapolis experienced a similar situation that it is enduring today, when five murders were committed in the first two weeks of the year.
But did that mean the City was on pace for 10 homicides for the month and a record 122 homicides for the year? Of course not.
In fact, Minneapolis ended up with 2 more murders in January 2007 for a total of 7 for the month.
And the murder ‘rate’ of 1 out of every 3 days that the City had experienced during the first two weeks of 2007, was followed by a much lower rate of 1 out of every 8.3 days for the rest of the year (42 homicides during the remaining 350 days), for a final tally of 47.
Still, even casting the aforementioned dubious hypothetical projections aside, January 2010 has already tallied the city’s 29th highest number of homicides in a month over the past 133 months (11+ years).
Compare that to 2009, when Minneapolis recorded two of the sevens months in which no homicides were recorded during the past 11 years (February and May 2009) and the highest monthly tally of homicides for any month was just three (July, August, and September).
However, in the end, it is much too early to be using these episodic crime events as any sort of prediction of what is to come in 2010 – either formally or through the informal, disquieting suggestions by the if-it-bleeds-it-leads media that crime is starting to spin out of control and that the City of Lakes is under siege by violent criminals.
Just as in 2008 – when the zero murders that were recorded in January did not serve as a sign for what was to come later that year (the City ended up with 39), the first week and a half of January 2010 will similarly not dictate the murder rate for the rest of this year.
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