Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Mixed Bag If Ever There Was One

Hey! I wrote a year ago about how Camden passed up Detroit as the country's most dangerous city -- at least according to the slightly dubious but apparently authoritative Morgan Quitno. Which is kinda spooky, since I used to live right across 8 Mile Rd Detroit and now live right across the Delaware River from Camden.

Well, I live farther from Camden now, but Camden is still No. 1. Get this, though: The Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn belt is now considered the most dangerous metropolitan area in the country. So whatever Detroit's problems are, it doesn't look like they have much to do with me. And apparently, Philly's safe enough to balance out Livonia, for whatever that's worth.

Probably not as much as chargin' folks $50 to buy recycled FBI data. "Morgan Quitno." Assholes.


LPS said...

I clicked on the "Livonia" link to see what you had found as a reference for it... I giggled at what I found.

There's gotta be something really interesting to say about the racial dynamics in that Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn link. (All of those towns have pretty homogenous populations (black, white, arab)). Yeah, so I'm not sure just what is interesting about that but I feel that something is. Tim, you're in charge of theorizing this.

Tim said...

I'm most curious as to how they define a "metropolitan area." What Morgan Quitno calls the "Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn" metropolitan area is -- unless they've fudged the boundaries on their own -- what the OMB calls the "Detroit-Warren-Livonia" Metropolitan Statistical Area. Which makes sense, given that Warren is (surprisingly) huge.

The principal cities in the DWL metro area are: Detroit, Warren, Livonia, Dearborn, Farmington Hills, Troy, Southfield, Pontiac, and Taylor. It also seems to be defined as including all or part of Wayne, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, and St. Clair counties. So it goes out a long frickin' way, and includes a lot of places much safer than the Motor City (including Troy, moving up again this year from eleventh to sixth safest city in the country). In fact, it seems to go almost all the way out to Flint, which has its own sphere of murder, rape, and assault going on.

So the metro area as a whole swallows up a lot of populations much less homogeneous than Detroit's, Livonia's, and Dearborn's. But it looks like they cut Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn out of the larger MSA to make a "metropolitan division," or MD. There's also a Warren-Farmington Hills-Troy metropolitan division. They did the same thing with Miami-Dade and Los Angeles County, along with some of the safer MSAs as well. So long story short, they cut off the northern suburbs: once you do that, Detroit, Livonia and Dearborn are the most populous cities in the division, in that order.

Which kinda feels like cheating a little bit. For example, there's a Philadelphia-Camden, NJ-Wilmington, DE Metropolitan Statistical Area, which in turn is parsed into Camden-area, Philadelphia-area, and Wilmington-area Metropolitan Divisions. Certainly, if you lump all three of those together, Philadelphia's metro rating for safeness would go down. But it wouldn't be hurt as much by Camden's inclusion (Camden, after all, has less than 100K people -- it's like a little, violent Birmingham, MI) as Detroit is hurt by losing its suburbs in Macomb and Oakland County. Not only are those places safe, but Livonia aside, that's really where all of the people (and money) in Detroit really are.

What it ultimately comes down to is that while Camden may be the most violent city in the U.S. per capita, it's at most an eighth the size of Detroit. (Detroit's population numbers may be dwindling and/or officially inflated, but still.) Even the rest of Camden County is an awfully safe, suburban, middle-to upper-middle class place -- and the Jersey suburbs as a whole are like one Troy or Bloomfield Hills after another. So any metropolitan area that includes Detroit -- and doesn't include a huge, affluent, white, relatively nonviolent population to offset Detroit's -- is going to have a hard time digging itself out of that whole.

Tim said...

Also, from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The method Morgan Quito uses to determine the rankings is attacked regularly by criminologists and sociologists, who criticize the company for not placing the data in context.

John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences and a professor of mathematics at Temple, labeled the company's methodology "incomprehensible."

It "calls for a new category of crime: statisticide," Paulos said. "I think they should be sentenced to a course in probability and statistics."

Under its methodology, Morgan Quitno gives equal weight to six basic crime categories reported by the FBI: homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor-vehicle theft.

Also see this entry on PoliticsPhilly.