Criminologists Condemn City Crime Rankings

Nov 16, 2007, 00:00 ET from American Society of Criminology

    ATLANTA, Nov. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- 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 (UCRs).
     "These rankings represent an irresponsible misuse of the data and do
 groundless harm to many communities," said ASC President Michael Tonry,
 professor of law and public policy at the University of Minnesota. "They
 also work against a key goal of our society, which is a better
 understanding of crime-related issues by both scientists and the public."
     Since 1994, Morgan Quitno Press, a tiny Lawrence, Kan.-based publisher,
 has produced an annual list of the "safest" and "most dangerous" U.S.
 cities. CQ Press, a division of Congressional Quarterly, Inc., purchased
 Morgan Quitno in June 2007, and is scheduled to publish the rankings again
 next week.
     The resolution, approved at the ASC's annual meeting now under way
 here, states:
        "Be it resolved, that the Executive Board of the American Society of
        Criminology opposes the use of Uniform Crime Reports data to rank
        American cities as 'dangerous' or 'safe' without proper consideration
        of the limitations of these data.  Such rankings are invalid, damaging,
        and irresponsible.  They fail to account for the many conditions
        affecting crime rates, the mismeasurement of crime, large community
        differences in crime within cities, and the factors affecting
        individuals' crime risk. City crime rankings make no one safer, but
        they can harm the cities they tarnish and divert attention from the
        individual and community characteristics that elevate crime in all
        cities. The American Society of Criminology urges media outlets to
        subject city crime rankings to scientifically sound evaluation and will
        make crime experts available to assist in this vital public
     The Society's resolution is the second passed in recent months
 deploring crime rankings by community. Last June, the U.S. Conference of
 Mayors passed a similar measure, which also committed the Conference to
 working with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice "to educate
 reporters, elected officials, and citizens on what the (UCR) data means and
 doesn't mean."
     In addition, the FBI has posted the following disclaimer on its Web
 site with the UCR data:
        Caution Against Ranking -- Each year when Crime in the United States is
        published, some entities use reported figures to compile rankings of
        cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the
        numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county,
        state, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or
        incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely
        affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are
        possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique
        conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.  The data
        user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of
        individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or
        colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population
        coverage or student enrollment.
     About the ASC
     The American Society of Criminology is an international organization
 concerned with criminology, embracing scholarly, scientific, and
 professional knowledge concerning the etiology, prevention, control, and
 treatment of crime and delinquency. This includes the measurement and
 detection of crime, legislation, the practice of criminal law, as well as a
 review of the law enforcement, judicial, and correctional systems.

SOURCE American Society of Criminology