Is Seattle property crime really that bad?
City attorney candidate Scott Lindsay caused a stir this week after he claimed that Seattle has the worst property crime in the nation. It prompted skeptics to look closer at the data, however.
Property crime includes reports of burglary, car theft, and vandalism. Lindsay claims that Seattle has four-times the property crime rate of New York, and 2.5 times the rate of Los Angles. He cites recently-released FBI statistics for 2016 which state Seattle has 5,488 property crimes per 100,000 residents.
“The data shows that while Seattle has very low rates of violent crime compared to other cities, Seattle has the highest property crime rate per capita of any major city in the United States,” Lindsay writes.
The Seattle Time’s FYI Guy Gene Balk wrote a column to counter the assertion, “No, Seattle doesn’t have the nation’s highest rate of property crime.” He reached out to Lindsay and reports that the candidate aimed to compare Seattle with other peer cities with Fortune 100 companies. Balk looks at it another way. He attempts to define what a “major city” is, and whether Seattle tops them all in property crime.
Only if by ‘major’ U.S. cities you mean the top 20. Because even if you look at the 25 largest cities, Seattle drops back to No. 2, after Memphis. In my column, when I refer to major U.S. cities, I typically look at the 50 largest in population — Seattle drops down to sixth place by that measure … I choose to look at the top 50 to capture a broader range of cities. Who wouldn’t consider Washington, D.C., or Boston a major U.S. city? Neither rank in the top 20.
Considering Balk’s lineup of America’s 50 largest cities, Seattle comes in at 8th for burglary, 7th for larceny theft, and 19th for motor-vehicle theft. If we focused in on Washington state, Spokane and Tacoma have much worse property crime than Seattle — 7,688 per 100,000, and 6,550 per 100,000 respectively — despite their lower population numbers.
However you choose to look at it, while Seattle may or may not have the worst property crime in America, it still ranks high. It’s at least the sixth highest in the nation if you go by Balk’s assessment.
Beyond property crime
Just south of Seattle, the Tacoma News-Tribune is reporting that its city takes the lead in Washington when it comes to violent crime; using the same FBI statistics.
Four types of crime make up the violent statistics, according to the FBI: assault, murder, robbery, and rape. Again, population plays a role. Seattle may have had more murders in 2016, the newspaper points out, but Tacoma has fewer people in town — meaning more murders per capita.
Looking at the big picture, the FBI reports that violent crime in America went up by 4.1 percent in 2016; the second year in a row that it rose. Despite the numbers in Washington state, property crime went down nationally for the 14th straight year in a row; down by 1.3 percent in 2016.
It’s worth noting what the FBI has to say about its own “Crime in the United States” report. It warns against using the numbers to come up with rankings.
Caution against ranking: Each year when Crime in the United States is published, some entities use the figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing crime data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment.