Schenectady officials dispute city's bad showing in online crime ranking

Monday, April 7, 2014
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— Schenectady officials are disputing a website’s ranking of Schenectady as one of the most dangerous small cities in America, saying the calculations are flawed and the numbers are “just factually incorrect.”

The source of the data itself, the FBI and its 2012 uniform crime report, cautions against using the numbers to rank jurisdictions between each other, noting many factors impact crime and comparisons can be incomplete.

The rankings come from a blog post on the real estate site The site wrote that it used the FBI’s 2012 uniform crime report and seven types of reported crimes to rank all U.S. cities with a population between 50,000 and 75,000.

The site ranked Schenectady at No. 11.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy disputed the ranking Wednesday.

“I consider it unfortunate,” he said. “It’s just an incorrect analysis.”

He questioned the site’s method of calculating each city’s crime per 100,000 residents. The author wrote that was done to calculate cities on an even playing field.

Deeper than that, McCarthy said crime is down in Schenectady, and it has been going down. Helping it decrease has been innovative policing methods that city police have been sharing with other departments.

According to state numbers, violent crimes in Schenectady have been on a steady downward trend since 2010, when there were 679. In 2012, there were 625 and in 2013, there were 601.

In 2012, there were 2,829 property crimes reported in Schenectady, the lowest number since at least 2004. The number for 2013 was even lower than that, 2,783.

Helping drive those numbers down in recent years has been data-driven policing, McCarthy said. The police track traffic accidents, burglaries and other crimes and send extra officers to hot spots. Police officials get requests from other departments to teach them to use those methods, he said.

Even the underlying crime report upon which the blog’s rankings are based cautions against such rankings on its home page.

The FBI website notes that attempts to rank cities using the data provided “are merely a quick choice made by the data user.”

Comparing jurisdiction to jurisdiction requires more variables, among them ones that are hard to measure or don’t even apply to all cities, the website notes.

Rankings based on the FBI data “provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction,” the FBI site reads. “Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.”

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