A bogus burglary crime wave, perpetrated by the Washington Post
Burglaries Have Surged 21 Percent cries the Washington
Post (April 20, 2008), spreading fear of crime throughout the city. No doubt the
truth -- "burglaries continue at an average rate" -- would sell no newspapers,
and win the writers of this report no headlines.
The truth of the matter
is that this "surge" is a bogus artifact of really poor evaluation of crime
statistics. Here is a plot showing burglary data in the District, quarter by
quarter, since the formation of the current Police Service Areas and Districts
chart shows clearly that the burglary count in the first quarter of 2007 hit a
record low for the past four years. Why? Who knows, maybe cold weather kept the
burglars at home. But plainly any comparison to that quarter is going to show an
increase. Specifically, the first quarter of 2008, showing an average count of
burglaries for the period, is higher -- the Post's 21 percent "surge".
But is that really a significant change? In fact, the burglary rate in
the first quarter of 2008 is 6% below the average for these four years.
How is it that a below-average quarter is a shocking crime wave?
Simply, the Post looked at only the count for the year-earlier quarter, and
ignored everything else.
Are burglaries on the rise in the District?
That's certainly not evident from the data here. Burglaries continue, at a more
or less average rate. But that doesn't make headlines or sell
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