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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Month w/out Murder in Brick City

So, I was perusing the internet today and stumbled upon a series of articles that people may or may not have heard about.  Apparently, the city of Newark, NJ, celebrated a month without murder last April, 2010.  I guess this hadn't happened since the late 1960s.  I was astonished when I read this.  I've heard plenty of bad stories about "Brick City" from close friends who have grown up there or lived there, but for some reason this statistic and the news coverage around it floored me.  What's it like to live in a place where a month without murder makes the news?  

Dilapidated projects in Newark, NJ
 Then, I began digging around on one my favorite wikipedia sites: The US Cities by Crime Rate page.  This is a great page, if you're interested.  Some people took the time to compile the FBI's Uniform Crime Stats and organized them into a table that you can manipulate to your liking.  So, for instance, if you were curious, you could find out that Toledo, Ohio lead the nation in Arson in 2009, or that in the same year, Oakland, CA lead the nation in motor vehicle theft. 

After a few clicks and some scrolling, I discovered something kind of curious about Newark's violent crime rates.  In 2009, Newark ranked in the top 5 cities with the highest murder rate (250k and above).  However, in many other violent crime categories, Newark ranked significantly lower.  For instance, Newark ranked 58th in forcible rape, 17th in robbery, and 36th in aggravated assault.  It's interesting that St. Louis, one of Newark's "peer cities" in terms of size and murder rate, seems to be much more consistently violent across all categories: St. Louis is tied for 2nd in murder, 8th in forcible rape, 2nd in robbery, and 2nd in aggravated assault. 

What explains these disparities across different violent crime rates in Newark?  My best guess is that people are reporting violent crime at a much lower rate in Newark than in places like St. Louis.  Sociologists and criminologists have long known that rape, robbery, and aggravated assault are some of the most under-reported violent crimes out there.  Unlike dead bodies, victims of rape, robbery, and violent assaults (that don't require extended hospitalization or medical care), often go unnoticed and unreported.  This has long been one of the shortcomings in Uniform Crime Report Data; it's entirely based on crimes that are reported and documented by the police.  I understand that this is one of the best measurements out there, but it doesn't provide a really good way around under-reporting of violent crime.  Then, again, maybe there's something unique about Newark's violent crime problem, right?

I guess I'm just wondering if is this a reporting/documenting crime problem, or something unique about the city of Newark?

If you're interested, here's a great song, "Brick City Mashin'" by Redman...

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this is quite a puzzle, definitely worth some Rutgers' student's time to go out and write a thesis, even a dissertation on. Have you read Mark Kleiman's new book? When Brute Force Fails. He presents similar cases, some based on David Kennedy's (John Jay, CUNY)? It could've been spontaneous ceasefire, but unlikely. I do believe that more police, especially with strategy in mind, can halt (or move) crime, at least for a while. If you're really interested, I'd see what I could find on police enforcement strategy (no doubt proactive, which requires profiling by definition, but I'm bracketing the political dimension here). Interesting. Update if you learn more...