The Problem With Forbes “Safest City” Rankings

On Monday we learned that Forbes Magazine had named Santa Ana the 4th Safest City in the United States. On the same day, Congressional Quarterly released their report on the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics for 2011-2012 year which showed Irvine as the 6th Safest City over all, and the Safest City with a population over 100,000. Irvine didn’t make Forbes list, and Santa Ana ranked as the 208th safest city in Congressional Quarterly. If you’re scratching your head in confusion, you’re smarter than a fifth-grader.

Humorist Evan Esar opined: 

“Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.”

Given the reality that behind every set of statistics is a method for getting there I took a deeper look into the Forbes report. It turns out that they arrived at their ranking by mixing two sets of unrelated statistics. Specifically they combined the FBI’s UCR statistics for 2010-2011 and the traffic-fatality rate per 100,000 residents based on 2009 data, the most recent available, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The only relationship between the UCR and Traffic Safety statistics is that they both are sets of statistics. When you add in the fact that the statistics used are from two different periods in time, they’re even further unrelated.

Back to Evan Esar again:

“Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.”

In addition to the Forbes statistics not even passing a common sense test, their rankings are about as valuable as combining different brands of peanut butter with jelly to determine the best tasting brand of peanut butter. The only valid conclusion that can be derived is that even when mixed with jelly, penut butter still sticks to the roof of your mouth.

Comparing Santa Ana to Irvine using raw numbers is equally unreliable given the different demographics, population, and density of each city. The Uniform Crime Report numbers are simply a per capita analysis of self reported statistics. Out of context they are a meaningless measure of overall performance of city leaders and law enforcement in meeting their responsibilities for public safety. While they can tell you if you have improved relative to the previous year measured, they can’t tell you why or how.

Henry Clay, a Congressman, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senator, and Secretary of State in the early 1800’s said it best.

“Statistics are no substitute for judgment.”

  7 comments for “The Problem With Forbes “Safest City” Rankings

  1. junior
    December 21, 2011 at 8:13 am

    “Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.”

    Statistics don’t lie – but liars use statistics.

  2. santa ana guy
    December 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Everytime I come to this blog to look for an inspiring or informing article, all I find is folks hating on Santa Ana. Let it go guys!

    I feel like I’m on the Irvine Company website blog here. Enough hatin’ already!

    • December 21, 2011 at 7:18 pm

      Just because you don’t like the facts doesn’t make me a Santa Ana Hater. The Forbes ranking is misleading. By no rational measure can Santa Ana be the fourth safest big city in the US. While per capital crime is down, and that deserves recognition, it does not warrant such outrageous claims.

    • December 21, 2011 at 7:21 pm

      Also, when the city stops serving up failures like low hanging fruit, I’ll stop writing about them.

  3. cook
    December 21, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Sometimes at the night rush out of Santa Ana by the government employee’s who live elsewhere, (Some many miles away)

    I will hold up my cardboard sign.

    If you lived in Santa Ana, you would be home now.

    • December 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm

      Cook, I spend about 60% of my waking hours in Santa Ana. I look forward to moving back some day.

  4. December 25, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Chris is correct about statistics being in the eye of the beholder and often is used as a means to the cnclusion they want to reach. The FBI crime reporting process by local law enforcement is pretty straight forward without a lot of variations. There are agencies however, who attempt to make themselves look good, with lower rates of crime, by reporting a more serious crime as a lesser offense. For example; Burglary includes the entry to a home with the intent to commit a crime, usually thefts of property. In past times to get their Burglary rates down, some agencies have re-classified Burglary from an open garage, as Petty Thefts They justify this by concluding the garage was open and there was no forced entry, so the crime was not Burglary. This is a misrepresentation of the elements of the crime. The same also applies to a range of other crimes including assaults. There are only a few agencies in Orange County who cut corners like this and neither Santa Ana or Irvine are among them.

    A major contributing factor to reducing crime has been implementation of the concept of Community Policing. Irvine was using the philosophy long before the “buzz word” was coined. It started in 1975, with a population of 35,000 people. In it’s simplist form, Community Policing is nothing more that developing a close partnership between the stakeholders in a community and their police. Working together, they decide the priorities of police service, identify community problems and develop interventions to correct them. It was applied and expanded in Irvine over 35 years and combined with a number of other proactive problem solving programs, is the prime reason Irvine has a low crime rate. Additionally, as part of the overall strategy of the City by the Irvine Company, there are no concentrated areas of lower income housing. The low income housing is interdispersed throughout the city. As such, no breeding grounds exist for gangs or criminal types. The Police Department works closely with the developers in planning away potential problems (CPTED) before they are built.

    Santa Ana has also done a good job over the years with Community Policing. It however, had to deal with a different environment than Irvine. Much of the City was established, older and in some places run down. Those low income areas existed and attracted undesirable elements. Still Santa Ana has an excellent track record of working with their stakeholders in implementing many innovative and proactive programs. Their #4 ratings is evidence of that.

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