In Vernon, California the odds a person will be the victim of a reported violent crime in a year are 1 in 1.67 (60%). Those are exactly the same odds that a person 40 – 59 years old will drink any type of coffee in a day. Given the popularity of Starbuck’s and Dunkin’ Donuts these days, those are incredible odds.
Nationally, only 1 in 220 people will be the victim of a reported violent crime in a year. So what makes Vernon so dangerous?
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crimes are those that utilize some sort of force or a threat of force. These include four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. In 2008, almost 1.4 million violent crimes were reported to law enforcement agencies across the country. Of those only 54 were committed in Vernon. This means that out of all violent crimes, only 0.004% of them were committed in Vernon. New York City, by comparison, had the most violent crimes reported with an estimated 48,430 violent crimes committed within the city in 2008. Still, the odds a person in New York City will be the victim of a reported crime in a year (1 in 172.3) seem minuscule compared to Vernon’s odds.
With an area of just 5.2 square miles, Vernon boasted a population of 91 residents during the 2000 census. Data now estimate that the city is down to 90 residents. This population statistic is the key to the apparent “dangerousness” of the city.
Crime rates are usually calculated as the number of crimes in a given area per inhabitants of that area. So, although nationally we can get a fairly good estimate of 454.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people, when the same type of calculation is attempted at the city level, we can get some fairly surprising results. Fifty-four violent crimes in a city with ninety residents results in a crime rate of six violent crimes for every ten residents. This is highly alarming, but there is one key fact left out of the equation.
Vernon is an industrial city and it employs about 50,000 people. Almost none of these people actually live in Vernon, but they are there enough hours in a week to draw a paycheck, and for some of them, to commit crimes like armed robbery. So, theoretically 50,000 could be used as a better estimate of the number of people in Vernon, California. Factoring 54 violent crimes into a population of 50,000 people gives a more conservative crime rate of about 108 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the city—much lower than the national rate.
In the end, the lesson is to make valid evaluations of crime data. As seen in the instance of Vernon, California, a crude crime rate can make a city seem more (or less) dangerous than what it really is. There are many factors that contribute to crime, which is one reason the FBI strongly cautions against using their data to develop a ranking of the safest or most dangerous cities.
For more odds and information on violent crime, click here.