Very quickly, I want to note the unspinnably bad news about the increase in homicides in Lakeland in 2010. Any rate over 10 per 100,000, I think you can safely call bad. Lakeland, with its 13 total in 2010, set a record eclipsing the worst days of the crack age in 1984. And our rate approached 15 per 100,000. That’s bad, in and of itself, outside of any trends.
Now, I will say this story isn’t as alarmist as many I’ve read, and I give Jeremy Maready a lot of credit for that. The context with county killings remaining flat helps, as does some of the national context. It does not go in for the full “Oh my God, we’re all gonna die” vibe that one often sees.
However, I want urge people to read it even more analytically. For instance, it’s hugely important to understand the mathematical context of this year’s 160 percent increase. Any quick look at the data, even within the story, shows that the huge percentage increase from 2009 to 2010 reflects the combination of an unusually calm year in 2009 and the worst year ever in 2010. That means, for example, we can stay at this level in 2011, create a much smaller percentage increase or even a decrease, and still have a terrible year for murder while applauding the trend.
Crime is most important to people who are not victims of it as a reflection of the state of their community.
What do these numbers say about the state of Lakeland? We know they say we had a really bad year for murder in 2010, one that is out of whack with previous years.
But do they also say that our police department has been largely dysfunctional for quite a while, at least administratively? Did most of the victims and killers know each other? Or did random violence increase? We should all consider these types of questions in reading crime stories.
Oddly enough, I can think of no other subject where classic education matters more than in consideration of crime. It requires mathematical fluency, empiricism, critical thinking, understanding of economics, and social patterns. You need to know something about history and the state of other communities to properly understand your own.
Crime stats provide undeveloped snapshots of ourselves. Only education can fully develop them into crisp images.