Friday, May 16, 2014

Is Crime in GR What It Seems?

Have you seen this map of Grand Rapids yet?

It's been passed around Facebook. Crime and proximity to crime is a concern for everyone who lives in the city and for property owners who want to maintain their investment or keep their merchandise safe. On the news there are regular reports of bank robberies, jewelry store heists, murders, sexual assaults, meth lab busts, fraud, and drunk driving. These accounts can be anxiety provoking, but they obscure what people are really concerned with: calculating the risk of living and working in Grand Rapids.

So what is the real crime rate like? First of all, as the map above suggests, it's different in different parts of the city. If you want to know the most recent police activity in your area, go to the Grand Rapids page at Crime Mapping and take a look at the rundown. The detail on various arrests is also helpful for evaluating the risks of being in certain areas of Grand Rapids if you are unfamiliar with them and don't know what to expect. You may not be concerned with arrests for "minor in possession of a controlled substance" or "vandalism" if you just want to do some shopping. You might not want to park in an area with robberies and assaults, though. Or motor vehicle thefts.

As you might assume, if you are familiar with news reports, the areas on the map with the most offenses are Downtown, the Northwest Side and the Southeast Side. Currently on the map the downtown area has a number of assaults, vandalism, car thefts, and burglaries. The Westside has also had a lot of vandalism, a number of car break-ins, and rash of assault. The Southeast Side has had several cases of arson, more assault and a spate of drugs and weapons crimes. Also there's a bit of fraud. These are all good things to know if you are thinking of opening a small business here or sending your daughter to live on the Pew campus at GVSU. If you want to know the safest places to live, the Neighborhood Scout website assesses the general safety of various neighborhoods for you.

But safety is a bit of a relative concept, at least as most individuals are concerned. We all know that crime exists and that some people will be victimized by it. But what are the chances it will happen to us, we want to know. And happen multiple times? At least in that respect, there's significant good news. Recorded crime has been dropping in the area for decades, despite a drop in police officers on the streets. Between 2003 and 2011, violent crime in Grand Rapids was down 33%, and property crime decreased 34%. Many people assumed that the hard times caused by the Great Recession would have increased crime, but that did not occur, whether from increased use of surveillance cameras or demographic change (the "aging" of America or as posited by the authors of Freakonomics, an unintended consequence of eugenics via increased rates of abortion).

So while it's good to be cautious and aware of what is going on around you - and even better to have an active neighborhood association and alert neighbors - overall, we have less to worry about than we did a decade or more ago. And that is good news. This isn't Mayberry, but it sure isn't Detroit or Flint either.