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news copSpoiler alert: Santa Cruz isn’t really the ‘third most dangerous city’ in the state

Home Security Shield, a company that sells ADT home security systems, released an article on its website on Sept. 11 titled, “20 Most Dangerous Cities in California.” There were a couple of usual suspects on the list, such as Oakland, which came in at the number one spot. But according to Home Security Shield’s (HSS) calculations, Santa Cruz is the third most dangerous city in the state.

The HSS article, which predictably went viral on Facebook, claims that the total reported crimes in Santa Cruz, according to the FBI’s most recent uniform crime report (UCR), is 70.61 per 1,000 residents. The ranking uses 2012 data, the most recent year available.

But, using the same FBI data table, GT calculated that the actual figure is 65.97 per 1,000 residents. That’s the difference between Santa Cruz being number 3 by these metrics and number 4, right between Stockton and Modesto—still nothing to brag about. However, there were other issues with the list in addition to HSS’ inaccurate calculations.

For one, the FBI advises against such use of the UCR data, as Santa Cruz Police Department Deputy Chief Steve Clark highlighted in an email to GT.

On its website, the FBI states its “primary objective” with UCR data “is to generate a reliable set of crime statistics for use in law enforcement administration, operation and management.”

“Since crime is a sociological phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors,” the statement adds, “the FBI discourages ranking the agencies and using the data as a measurement of law enforcement effectiveness.” 

Some of HSS’ basic methods for its ranking system were questionable as well. HSS combined property crimes with violent crimes to determine which cities were the most dangerous—this means that rape and murder are weighted equally with vandalism and bike theft on the list—resulting in misleading results.

Compton’s homicide rate per capita, for example, was four times higher than that of Santa Cruz in 2012. Compton’s overall per capita crime rate, though, was a little more than half of Santa Cruz’s. The Southern California city would not have come close to placing on the HSS list.

Keeping in mind that HSS is in the business of selling home security services, GT calculated the crime rates for each city independently, and found that the company’s number crunching was flawed, not only in the case of Santa Cruz, but with many of the cities listed in the article.

Rankings for both Berkeley and San Bernardino were way off the mark, as well—off so much that it knocked them out of the top 10, where HSS had placed them. Figures for others, like Oakland and Eureka, which occupied the top two spots, were accurate.

Deputy Chief Clark also points out that the UCR does not account for fluctuations in Santa Cruz’s population on any given day. The influx of visitors to Santa Cruz can push the number of people in the city from approximately 60,000 to 90,000, which can lead to misrepresentations of data.

Santa Cruz City Council candidate Cynthia Chase, who has worked in both criminal justice and social services, is sick of lists like this.
“Good data is necessary to make smart policy and program decisions, but bad data is dangerous,” says Chase. “This data is both misleading and inaccurate, and can cause harm to our community. What is true is that crime rates in our city have actually been declining in the last two years. That doesn’t mean we stop paying attention to the challenges that remain—like property crime, which is disproportionately higher in our community.”

Santa Cruz’s overall crime rate has decreased by 16 percent in the last two years, according to the SCPD’s data, but property crime remains relatively high. Santa Cruz city council candidate Richelle Noroyan believes that initiatives like the Downtown Accountability Program will help to bring incidents of property crime down in the city, but states that there is no “silver bullet” for solving the city’s crime issues.

“It’s obviously a problem, and I think it’s better that we deal with it head-on, and try to find common ground between people who do want to solve this problem, whether they be police, social workers, or homeless advocates,” Noroyan says.

Santa Cruz City Councilmember Pamela Comstock views the high rate of property crime as a symptom of illegal drug use in the city.

“I think we have a lot of addicts desperate to pay for their next hit,” says Comstock. “Until we adequately deal with our addiction epidemic, we won’t make much headway in reducing property crime.”

Home Security Shield was unavailable for comment at press time, as was ADT. But it is important to note that a disclaimer on the website states that the statistics presented in the list are not to be used for any legal purpose, and are intended to be “solely informative.” The disclaimer—in tiny font at the bottom of the webpage—also recommends that if the reader wants a more accurate analysis of crime data, they should research the topic themselves.

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