The Safest City in the Nation, Just Another Lie

crime_scene_elpasoThe city once again proclaims itself one of the safest cities in the nation this time touting its first place listing. The complicit news media regurgitates the press release not once asking itself where the data comes from and what methodology was used for the designation. In other words the news media is just a propaganda outlet for the city’s feel-good-nothing-is-wrong party line. Some of you are rolling your eyes thinking; but Martin its FBI data, what conspiracy are you drumming up this time.

So let’s analyze where the “safe city” designation comes from.

I’ll start off from the actual list the city uses to toot its “safe city” horn; the CQ Press’ “City Crime Rankings 2013 Fact Sheet”. Right off the bat you will notice an immediate red flag where the document states that the list “of 33 largest cities does not include Chicago, because Chicago does not tabulate rape statistics in conformity with the UCR program”.

The UCR program is the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data. I realize some of you are thinking to yourselves that the fact that Chicago isn’t included isn’t really a big deal. However the fact that the data set already has exceptions should raise a need to study the base data more before accepting its conclusions.

So what is the FBU Uniform Crime Reporting data?

To get more information on the UCR I visited the FBI’s website about the UCR. The first thing I noted is that the raw data from which the FBI creates the data set is derived from information that is voluntarily submitted by police agencies across the nation. The FBI acknowledges that although it attempts to request that the various agencies submit the data as per the FBI’s guidelines it acknowledges that some agencies may not be able to comply for various reasons. To me that is red flag number two.

The FBI cautions against using the data to rank locales.

The FBI’s website provides an interesting document on its site named “UCR Statistics, Their Proper Use”. The two-page document is dated January 2011. In the section titled “Pitfalls of Ranking” the FBI writes;

“UCR data are sometimes used to compile rankings of individual jurisdictions…These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographical entities and their residents”.

The documents adds;

“For this reason, the FBI has a long-standing policy against ranking participating law enforcement agencies on the basis of the crime data alone.” The FBI caution adds; “despite repeated warnings against these practices, some data users continue to challenge and misunderstand this position”.

And here’s the doozy;

“Data users should not rank locales because there are many factors that cause the nature and type of crime to vary from place to place.”

Clearly the compiler of the raw data cautions against using the data for ranking cities.

Even those that question every position I take on an issue has to acknowledge that this is a serious problem for the ranking used to designate El Paso as one of the safest cities. However I’m not done yet.

The question now becomes who ranks El Paso and why. The latest ranking is published by CQ Press, also known as the Congressional Quarterly. CQ Press is a publisher focusing on government information. As a publisher it derives income from selling publications to end users. It is important to note that contrary to its official sounding name, CQ Press is owned by SAGE Publications which is a company in the business of making money.

According CQ Press, they publish an annual City Crime Rankings paperback. The City Crime Rankings 2013 is listed for $95.00, although it makes a single-page of city rankings available for free.

Now we know that the raw data collector cautions against using the data set to create city rankings. We also know that the entity that creates the list that the City of El Paso uses to proclaim itself as one of the safest cities in the nation is created for the purpose of making money for the publisher.

Obviously there is something wrong with the list; however am I the only one questioning the rankings?

I write about the failure that is El Paso’s leadership and therefore almost everyone expects me to write the negative stuff. Therefore a fair question to ask is if I’m the only one criticizing the rankings.

On November 21, 2010, The United States Conference of Mayors issued a press release titled “U.S. Conference of Mayors Denounces Crime Rankings as Bogus, Damaging to Cities”. The United States Conference of Mayors, according to its website, is the “official non-partisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more”. The site states that each city is represented by the city’s mayor.

The organization’s press release quotes Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker as stating that “these rankings represent a gross misuse of FBI data”. She adds; “everyone with the slightest knowledge of this issue knows the rankings are not credible, but the publication persists with them, presumably because rankings are popular and sell books.

Remember that El Paso’s mayor is a member of this organization and presumably has input in the organization’s activities. In fact, in a 2011 quote in the Austin American-Statesman PoliFact attributed to Darrel Petry, of the El Paso Police Department, he is quoted as stating that the label “Safest Large City” wasn’t being used by the department anymore because of the objections raised by the Conference of Mayors.

Furthermore the CQ Press’ “City Crime Rankings 2013” showing El Paso as number one uses the title; “Lowest Crime Rate Ranking” instead of “safest city” as used by the city’s press release because since 2008 the CQ Press stopped using the term “safest” in its rankings, because of the controversies.

Sadly, Mayor Parker goes on to state in the Conference of Mayor’s press release that;

“the media gave these rankings broad and uncritical coverage. More recently, however, we have been pleased to see the media take a more skeptical approach. In the last couple of years, most journalistic outlets have either ignored the rankings altogether or noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the American Society of Criminology all consider them bogus and damaging.”

I guess the local news media didn’t get the memo because the El Paso Times masquerading as a newspaper just regurgitated the city’s press release without bothering to share the controversy with you. Daniel Borunda’s article; “El Paso rankings: Safest, best places for families, least hipster” in the January 8, 2014 edition of the local paper doesn’t bother to offer you a balanced report showing the other side of the issue.

Of course we all know that Daniel Borunda’s job is write what the city tells it to so it’s of no surprise to me that he just rehashes the city’s press releases.

As for the American Society of Criminology it issued a press release on November 16, 2007 stating that the “executive board of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) has approved a resolution opposing the development of city crime rankings from FBI Uniform Crime Reports”. The press release goes on to state that the “rankings represent an irresponsible misuse of the data”.

According to the American Society of Criminology’s website it is an international organization of professional members that research criminality.

As if the fact that the publisher of the city rankings; who uses the data set that the data set owners have said is improper to use for rankings wasn’t bad enough, consider what Scott Morgan said in 2006. Scott Morgan, a co-editor of the rankings stated that he would be “stunned if there is a criminologist out there” who would support the ranking’s listing. (Law Enforcement Technology, February 2013, page 29)

Clearly, Morgan understands that the whole list is bogus at best and outright fraudulent at worst. He should know, after all, he co-edited the list.

El Paso’s leadership, including the business community, trips all over itself proclaiming how “safe” the city is basing it on a listing produced by a company making money off of it who bases its ranking based on data that the data owner has stated is an improper use for ranking. The local paper, as the propaganda mouthpiece, has no problem spreading this lie.

And it is a lie.

I have written for many years how the façade of El Paso is all based on a lie. The city ignores and downplays the seriousness of the city’s problems even when they involve criminality all in the mistaken belief that pretending “it’s all good” no one would notice the stench of corruption drowning the city.

Today, I’ve just showed you yet one more example of how the propaganda machine continues to manufacture outright lies to keep the illusion going.

How many more lies are covering up the ugly truth that is El Paso?