We Should Feel Safer Than We Do

We Should Feel Safer Than We Do by Christian Holmes.

Christian’s Background and Research Goals:

Background

Crime is a divisive and important issue in the United States. It is routinely ranked as among the most important issue to voters, and many politicians have built their careers around their perceived ability to reduce crime. Over 70% of Americans believe that crime is increasing, according to a recent Gallup poll, but is that really the case? I seek to answer this question in this post, as well as determine if there is any clear correlation between government spending and crime.

Research Goals

-Is crime increasing or decreasing in this country?
-Is there a clear link between government spending and crime?

provide an interesting contrast with his conclusions:

From the crime data, it is abundantly clear that crime is on the decline, and has been for around 20 years. The reasons behind this decrease are quite nuanced, though, and I found no clear link between either increased education or police spending and decreasing crime rates. This does not mean that such a relationship does not exist. Rather, it merely means that there is no obvious correlation between the two variables over this specific time frame.

In his background, Christian says:

Over 70% of Americans believe that crime is increasing, according to a recent Gallup poll, but is that really the case? I seek to answer this question in this post,…

Christian presumes, without proof, a relationship between: public beliefs about crime rates (rising or falling) and crime rates as recorded by government agencies.

Which also presumes:

  1. The public is aware that government collects crime statistics.
  2. The public is aware of current crime statistics.
  3. Current crime statistics influence public beliefs about the incidence of crime.

If the central focus of the paper is a comparison of “crime rates” as measured by government with other data on government spending, why even mention the disparity between public “belief” about crime and crime statistics?

I suspect, just as a rhetorical move, Christian is attempting to draw a favorable inference for his “evidence” by contrasting it with “public belief.” “Public belief” that is contrary to the “evidence” in this instance.

Christian doesn’t offer us any basis for judgments about public opinion on crime one way or the other. Any number of factors could be influencing public opinion on that issue, the crime rate as measured by government being only one of those.

The violent crime rate may be very low, statistically speaking, but if you are the victim of a violent crime, from your perspective crime is very prevalent.

Of R and Relationships

Christian uses R to compare crime date with government spending on education and policing.

The unhappy result is that no relationship is evidenced between government spending and a reduction in crime so Christian cautions:

…This does not mean that such a relationship does not exist. Rather, it merely means that there is no obvious correlation between the two variables over this specific time frame….

There is where we switch from relying on data and explore the realms of “the data didn’t prove I was wrong.”

Since it isn’t possible to prove the absence of a relationship between the “crime rate” and government spending on education/police, no, the evidence didn’t prove Christian to be wrong.

On the other hand, it clearly shows that Christopher has no evidence for that “relationship.”

The caution here is that using R and “reliable” data may lead to conclusions you would rather avoid.

PS: Crime and the public’s fear of crime are both extremely complex issues. Aggregate data can justify previously chosen positions, but little more.

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