Bridgeport's dangerous title in dispute
Posted in the Trumbull Forum
#1 Jun 17, 2013
BRIDGEPORT -- A report ranking the country's most violent cities would seem to confirm what suburban neighbors of the state's largest city have long whispered behind their white picket fences -- Bridgeport is the most dangerous place in Connecticut.
But local officials on Monday called into question a Business Insider analysis of violent crime statistics that found the Park City was the country's fourth most dangerous city last year, followed by New Haven at 20 and Hartford at 24.
Business Insider pulled data on cities with more than 100,000 residents from the FBI's preliminary Uniform Crime Report for 2012 and compared their "rates of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, and robbery against 2011 national averages, with the percent deviations averaged to determine overall ranking for violent crime," according to the report.
"The FBI itself cautions against using the data in its report the way that Business Insider is using it,'' said city police spokesman William Kaempffer.
"It sounds like a very strange project," said Dr. Jon T. Bloch, chairman of the sociology department at Southern Connecticut State University. "What you need to do is really control for a lot of things. You can't just go by a simple relationship ¦ you might want to take every conceivable variable that might apply to a particular city or across cities."
Still, Bridgeport did experience considerable violence in 2012, tallying 22 murders, 606 robberies and 388 rapes -- a statistic with which the police department has taken particular issue and largely blames for the city's position as one of the most dangerous in the country.
Two arrested suspects who together accounted for more than 230 of the rape charges skewed the number of reported rapes, Kaempffer has said. Moreover, the alleged attacks spanned several years, Kaempffer said, though they were all reportable in 2012 because the suspects were arrested last year.
"Based on reporting guidelines, the offenses are counted individually and in the year of arrest. That is why the rape statistics were high," Bridgeport Police Chief Joseph L. Gaudett said in a statement to Business Insider.
"Obviously this is a huge increase that's going to influence the overall violent crime rate," said Maria Tcherni, an assistant professor in the criminal justice department at the University of New Haven.
One of the main problems with comparing cities' crime rates against one another is that "reporting of police reports to the FBI is voluntary so (police departments) are not obligated to report," Tcherni said.
"Say there are some cities that may have experienced higher rates of violence but did not report their numbers ¦ that's one of the biggest caveats of this system," she said.
Even ranking those departments who report their numbers can be shortsighted, Tcherni said, as the FBI limits its annual report to the incidence of crime without accounting for the various societal factors that contribute to it. That is one reason behind the FBI's warning in a foreword to its online UCR database, discouraging the ranking of police agencies based solely on UCR data.
"Crime is a sociological phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors," the foreword states.
For example, Tcherni said, "Violent crime actually is the main consequence of poverty."
In 2011, Tcherni published a paper in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology based on her research into the "main predictors" of homicide. She found that the three most consistent predictors of homicide are a city's racial composition, divorce rate and poverty rate.
"If you look at different cities with different distributions of poverty rates, that's what's going to be the main predictor of violence," Tcherni said. "That's probably what the FBI means -- you can't compare a city that's a fairly wealthy city ... over cities that have mostly populations in the lower class."
Staff writer Frank Juliano contributed to this report
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