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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Fact check: Report on city's 'most dangerous neighborhoods' is misleading

Fact check: Report on city's 'most dangerous neighborhoods' is misleading

In a report published Monday, KROC claims to have identified Rochester's "most dangerous neighborhoods" using local crime data.

"Rochester has been recognized by numerous publications as a great city to live in," the report says. "However, every bushel has a few bad apples."

Using data published on NeighborhoodScout — a credible online database of neighborhood analytics — the radio station listed three sections of the downtown area as the most dangerous places in the city: the downtown core and the neighborhoods just southwest and northwest of the city center. 

 
 

"The majority of people that live in the neighborhoods below are wonderful people," the report adds, "but these three areas in Rochester have the highest crime rates."

But here's the problem: If we assume the crime data published on NeighborhoodScout is correct (and there's no reason we shouldn't), it doesn't back up KROC's claim that these are the most "dangerous" places in town.

First off, Rochester's a fairly diverse city and conditions can change street to street. To label an entire 100-block area "dangerous" is a bit misleading.

And secondly, as NeighborhoodScout says on its website, "the Index is based on the crime rate per 1,000 population for all crimes in the neighborhood." Here's why that matters if you're labeling highly-visited areas, like those in the downtown area, as the most crime-ridden parts of the city:

Crime rates can appear higher than expected if there are a lot of tourists (non-permanent residents) in your community, because the number of crimes (violent, property, or both) are divided by the permanent population, creating a crime rate per 1,000 residents. If there are a lot of visitors, these people can increase the number of crimes, but do not count in establishing the rate because they don't permanently reside there, thus increasing the crime rate per 1,000 residents.
 
 

That means the results can easily tilt toward areas crowded with hotels, bars, retail centers and large employers. Medical institutions can also skew the results — hospitals are often listed as the locations for things like sexual assaults. 

I also spoke to one top local law enforcement official who, after looking over the website, told me he was "highly suspicious" of the methodology.

Now, the point of this article is not to throw anyone under the bus, but to point out that the answers are not always as simple as they appear. And when a media organization publishes a conclusion without considering all the factors — especially on a subject that can provoke fear — well, that's dangerous.

The Rochester Police Department provides a daily list of reported incidents on its website. You can also subscribe via email.


About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.


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