Friday, September 5, 2008

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part III): Putting the recent crime wave in context

I've tracked down some of those rural-urban crime stats I was looking for last week (Ok, the librarians tracked them down), but the Dept. of Justice/FBI website where they're found does not make it very easy to access the data I wanted. It seems that, every year or so, the government changes how it presents the data and exactly what data it includes. This makes comparing "apples to "apples" over time a bit challenging. Plus, there are gaps in the data.

For now, here are some statistics that give us a sense of relative crime rates in rural vs. urban places. These also give us a sense of trends over time. In particular, I've excerpted here statistics regarding violent crimes. I'll leave property crimes for another discussion.

  • In 2006, the rate of violent crime per 100,000 persons was 514.6 in Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), while in cities that were outside MSAs, it was 382.4. In nonmetro counties (counties with no population center of at least 50,000 and a total county population of under 100,000), it was 199.2. For murder and non-negligent manslaughter, the numbers per 100K population were 6.2, 3.3 and 3.1, respectively, for the three types of areas. For aggravated assaults, the figures were 304 (MSA), 278 (MSA, outside cities), and 156 (nonmetro).
  • In 1997, the rate of violent crime per 100K population was 684 in MSAs, 455 in cities outside MSAs, and 214 in nonmetro areas (p. 12). The rates of murder and non-negligent homicide were 7, 4, and 5, respectively, in each category of place (p. 16). The rates of aggravated assault were 416 (MSA), 343 (cities outside MSAs), and 183 (nonmetro) (p. 34).
So, it seems that while violent crime rates have fallen across all three categories of places, they have typically fallen least in nonmetro places. One exception, comparing just 2006 to 1997, is with respct to murders and non-negligent homicides, which fell at a higher rate in nonmetro places.

Jumping to 2007, for which less detail is available, here is what we know: The rate of violent crime in metropolitan areas fell 1.7%, while the rate for nonmetro areas rose by 1.8%. In the smallest places (cities with populations under 10,000), violent crime was down .5%. While the murder rate fell 5.9% in nonmetro places, the rate of aggravated assault rose 3%. In the smallest places, the murder rate rose 1.8% and the aggravated assault rate rose just .1%. The rate of property crime fell in both metro (-1.6%) and nonmetro places (-1.7%). In the smallest places, it was down 2.4%.

And here is some Arkansas and Newton County data:
  • In Arkansas in 2006, there were 158 murders in MSAs, 28 murders in cities that were outside MSAs, and 19 murders in nonmetro counties. These numbers are not weighted for population, but the statewide figure for murders per 100K residents was 7.3. The number of aggravated assaults in MSAs was 8,263, 2,068 in cities outside MSAs, and 876 in nonmetropolitan counties. The statewide average was 399.4 per 100K.
  • I was able to find some data for Newton County for 2001 (click on Table 11a). It showed no murders, forcible rapes or robberies. In that year aggravated assaults numbered 10, burglaries 13, and larceny-thefts, 25. There were no motor vehicle thefts or arsons that year. Newton County did not report any statistics for 2002 (Table 11A), 2003 (Table 10A) 2004, 2005. or 2006. That's disappointing; I guess when you're running a 3- or 4-person operation like the Newton County Sheriff does, reporting tasks are a low priority.
  • Looking for a comparable baseline, I checked out the stats for neighboring Searcy County. The demographic and economic profile is virtually identical to that of Newton County, but its population density is slightly higher at 13 persons/sq. mile. In 2006, Searcy County reported only 8 violent crimes, all aggravated assaults. It reported no data for 2003, 2004 and 2005. In 2002, 1 forcible rape and 15 aggravated assaults were reported, and in 2001, 1 forcible rape and 6 aggravated assaults were the only reported violent crimes.
So, with that statistical preface, let me tell you what's in the Newton County Times this week. I just received the August 28, 2008, issue, and three of the five front-page stories are about serious violent crimes. Combined with the news of the past few weeks, it appears that Newton County will meet its crime quota early this year. Indeed, when it comes to murders and non-negligent homicides, norms have already been exceeded. The headlines are:
  • Killing at Ponca -- this is a report of the murder of a man who lived in neighboring Boone County but who was shot and killed in his "getaway cabin" in Ponca. The body was found in bed; the apparent cause of death was gunshot wounds. No suspects have yet been identified. A tiny community on the Buffalo National River, Ponca has a post office but isn't a Census Designated Place. An interesting side note is that the victim, age 77, had spent much of his career as director of the USDA Rural Development's Area One, where he had been involved in many public water projects in the region.
  • Stuart pleads, sentenced 35 years--this follows up on a story I mentioned last week, about a 36-year-old man who shot and stabbed his girlfriend in March. The story notes that the man, Stuart, had been paroled after a conviction for murdering his brother in 1995. More intra-family crime (and at least one Newton County murder we know of from 1995).
  • Mother suspected of shooting her son--this story tells of a 42-year-old woman who shot her son in the side of the head with a .22 caliber rifle. She apparently did so at the end of a a day of drinking with him and others. The mother shot her son when he refused to accede to her demand that he not drive away; she was reportedly concerned that it wasn't safe for him to drive because he'd had so much to drink. She apparently retreived the gun from beneath her mattress and pointed it at him as she yelled for him to get out of the car; she says the gun went off accidentally. The son survived, and the mother has been charged with first-degree battery.
This last story, with its prominent mention of the role alcohol played in the crime, is juxtaposed, on the paper's back page (where it continues from the front), with a photo featuring the caption "Contraband." The photo shows an open car trunk full of beer -- 13 cases of beer to be exact. You see, Newton County is a dry county, and this story reports that a 76-year-old man was caught bringing the beer and miscellaneous wine and liquor into the county. He was charged with procurement of liquor for another, a misdemeanor.

I am reminded of the role that alcohol played in that killing a few weeks ago, when a 33-year-old woman shot her husband. Further, I am reminded of something a former student told me recently about her work prosecuting domestic violence (albeit in a metro county): if it weren't for alcohol and drugs, she wouldn't have a job.

The lighter fare on the front page includes a photo of the exhibition judges at the county fair and a story, with photo, about the county's Farm Family of the Year. There really is a lot of good news, too, out of Newton County. Sometime, I'll write another post focusing on some of it.

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