Friday, January 10, 2014

Columbus is kind of dangerous

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Null Value.
An ever-popular online trend is to glorify Columbus and condemn Cleveland. Whether it's the weather (a popular gripe), crime, employment or education, the shining capital on the hill plays very well to the statisticians to portray a modern-day utopia on paper. Well, there's a whole lot of people out there who love Columbus, so there's truth to the bias--but as the old Russian proverb goes, "trust, but verify."

There are many historical reasons why a place like Columbus pans out well statistically. In a nutshell, Cleveland, an "old" city, contains a small portion of the county population (34%) while Columbus, a "new" city, comprises 67% of its county. The two cities developed at two different times in different political climates. Columbus captures all the positive benefits from its affluent areas, while most of Cleveland's affluent live in independent city-suburbs with completely separate governments. It's as if the north side of Chicago were its own suburb.

For the purpose of comparing crime as it impacts a regular citizen, it's more useful to look at county statistics to level the playing field. The two cities' respective central counties, Cuyahoga and Franklin, have roughly the same population (about 1.2 million people), so crime comparison is a simple exercise. In any case, I reduced the statistics to a rate per 1,000 residents, which is how most crime is reported.

So is Forbes right? Is Cleveland really dangerous, and Columbus a utopia? This is what the crime statistics tell us:

I originally put all of these data on a single chart, but putting the Y-axis on a logarithmic scale just didn't do justice to the magnitude of difference in certain crime rates between the two counties.

If we buy the press-manufactured line "Cleveland is dangerous," then property crime in Columbus is absolutely out of control! We're talking nearly double the larceny/theft rate that Cuyahoga residents experience on a per-capita basis.  It's no wonder that Cleveland suburbs  dominate one list of the 50 safest cities in Ohio.

The trophy goes to Columbus for its relatively lower violent crime rates (except rape and murder!), but the only real difference between the two counties is aggravated assault and car theft--I'd be willing to wager that most of the former occur in or around bars and involve Steelers fans.

The statisticians are right when they examine crime rates in Cleveland and declare it a dangerous place, but the whole point of this exercise is to inject some sanity into the game and not unfairly compare just the bad parts of one metropolitan area with the entirety of another.

In any case, if you're going to Columbus, lock your stuff up.

1 comment:

  1. Good points Christian. In terms of land size, columbus is twice the size of Cleveland. This has a lot to do with the fact that communities around Columbus could not get water unless they were incorporated , and the EPA is not favorable to newer, smaller water treatment facilities. Thus you have almost rural suburban areas within columbus proper , a far cry from cleveland where suburbs are offered amentities includind coc water.