Today’s column on street crime and the “methodology” behind it

I’ve put “methodology” in quotation marks because today’s column wasn’t based on the sort of straightforward numbers crunching that I do pretty often when looking at the economy.

And that’s because I wasn’t looking at the economy but at crime, which is pretty slippery sometimes. Many crimes go unreported; spikes in crime can sometimes reflect spikes in reporting that could conceivably indicate greater confidence in police rather than any actual rise in crime; there is considerable variation around the U.S. in terms of how crimes are categorized (aggravated assaults are especially problematic from the data I’ve followed over the years).

So today I wrote a column saying that I hoped Savannah would make greater efforts to go after smaller street-level crime.

I know the arguments against arresting prostitutes and petty drug dealers (or suspected ones) on the streets: they are symptoms of larger problems, there are bigger fish behind them worth catching, the justice system will just have them back on the street in a matter of days or weeks, etc., etc., etc. But none of that changes the fact that prostitutes and drug dealers degrade neighborhoods and invite all sorts of other crimes and criminals.

You can find today’s City Talk column in the Savannah Morning News here: Would attacking street crime prevent other, more serious crime?

In the column, I discuss some of the geography of crime in Savannah. I looked at a variety of crimes and time periods using the interactive mapping available here.

I’ll include a few screen captures of maps that I generated using the density layer of analysis. You should be able to click on any of these to enlarge them.

First, the most recent 6 months of reports for residential burglary. As you can see there was a horrible pocket south of West Victory Drive:

Next is a 6 month trend map for the following more serious crimes — murder, aggravated assault, robbery (a violent crime whereas burglary is not), sexual assault, and auto theft:

Take a good look at that map. These are the most serious crimes. Note that the general City Market area is a crime hub (lots of people, cars, tourists, latenight altercations, etc.). Yamacraw Village’s eastern edge is included in the edge of that circle of red, but much of Yamacraw has fewer crimes than many areas of the city; ditto for the other public housing projects, which don’t show up here at all. Note also that the MLK corridor through the heart of the Historic District doesn’t stand out either. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know how few people live along there and how many stable institutions (primarily SCAD and churches) own property, but I’ve heard any number of slightly hysterical assumptions about crime on MLK — especially recently from opponents of removing the I-16 flyover. And note the higher crime areas: a little of the Waters Avenue corridor but especially some of the West Victorian area and some of the Metropolitan neighborhood. Along Jefferson Street especially, from Anderson to Victory, we have long tolerated high levels of visible street crime — drug dealing and prostitution are common. Is it a surprise that that area would also stand out for the number of more serious crimes?

Here’s the exact same crime selection as the above (murder, aggravated assault, robbery, sexual assault, and auto theft), but for the last two months:

Odd as it may seem to some, I like sometimes to consider only the two crimes that seem most likely to be reported and least likely to be classified as anything other than what they are: murder and auto theft. Here’s that map for the last six months: