Criminologists honored for criticism of annual city rankings
University of Missouri–St. Louis criminologists Richard Rosenfeld and Janet Lauritsen received an inaugural Claude S. Fischer Award for Excellence in Contexts in the category of Best Book Review for their highly critical review of the annual most dangerous city rankings. They received the award during the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.
Rosenfeld, Curators’ Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Lauritsen, professor of criminology and criminal justice, wrote “The Most Dangerous Crime Rankings.” In it they outlined problems they found with the methods used to determine the annual rankings of dangerous U.S. cities. Congressional Quarterly Press publishes the rankings, which are based on the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Cities are evaluated based on that total number of homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts. Each crime is equally rated.
The scholars argue that holding the same value to a nonviolent crime like vehicle theft as a violent crime like homicide is ridiculous and makes the results inaccurate.
“The crime rankings aren’t only methodologically questionable, they do real damage to the affected cities. Businesses think twice about relocating to ‘dangerous’ places, organizations fail to sign or cancel convention contracts, families reconsider visiting or moving and suburban and rural residents needlessly fear the city,” Rosenfeld said.
The professors also said the exact methodology applied to ranking the UCR crime statistics was undisclosed by Congressional Quarterly Press, and after numerous attempts at reproducing or verifying the rankings, the scholars were unsuccessful.
“We are reasonably skilled quantitative social scientists, but we couldn’t figure out how the scores were produced or what they meant,” Lauritsen said.
In addition to the questionable ranking system, the scholars said solely relying on the UCR data for city and metro areas will only bring inaccurate results.
UCR data includes only incidents the police know about, recorded as crimes and forwarded to the FBI. The most recent estimates of crimes reported to the police range from 41 percent of rapes and sexual assaults to 81 percent of motor vehicle thefts according to the Bureau of Justices Statistics.
The Claude S. Fischer Awards for Excellence in Contexts were established this year to honor excellence in writing by the American Sociological Association.
Visit http://contexts.org/articles/winter-2008/the-most-dangerous-crime-rankings/ to read the full article by Rosenfeld and Lauritsen.
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