A new motto for Oakland: “Only some areas are extremely dangerous”

By Dogtown Commoner | Posted at 12:19 am, November 20th, 2007 | Topic: cities, oakland

I wasn’t planning to take note of the recent “news” that Oakland is dangerous, until V Smoothe at A Better Oakland flagged some comments that are a staggering display of incompetence and insensitivity:

In Oakland, police Chief Wayne Tucker said people might be misled by the report.

The department is always interested in how we’re being rated,” he said, “but I think a rating can be very deceptive.”

He said being ranked fourth on the list of dangerous cities could easily lead people to believe the whole city is under siege from crime. Tucker said the reality is that crime is concentrated in “two reasonably small areas” in East and West Oakland.

V Smoothe hits the main points here — first, Tucker is dangerously close to implying that the high-crime neighborhoods aren’t worth worrying about, and second, the “two reasonably small areas” are in fact most of Oakland. It would be just as accurate, if not more so, to say that “two reasonably small areas” (everything East of highway 13 and the neighborhoods Northeast of Lake Merritt) have relatively low concentrations of crime.

All I would add is that even if you accept Tucker’s characterization that Oakland has a wider range of high-crime and low-crime areas than other cities, that means that Oakland’s high-crime areas are even more violent and crime-plagued than the ranking shows, since the ranking represents city-wide statistics that average out low-crime and high-crime areas. So by arguing that some parts of Oakland are actually quite safe, Tucker is also admitting that the unsafe parts are even less safe than the ranking reflects. That may well be true, but is it really something a Police Chief wants to brag about?

This comment from Paul Rose, a spokesman for Mayor Dellums, was also disappointing:

“The FBI questions the use of the statistics, which forces many to question the validity of such a poll,” he said.

So if Oakland is actually the 5th or 6th most dangerous city in the nation instead of the 4th, that would make a big difference? In a defense of the list that CQ Press put out in response to the criticism, they acknowledge that these rankings are broad-brush generalizations that will inevitably omit all sorts of variables and differences between cities or neighborhoods, but they imply that if they are making city officials defensive, then that alone is a good reason for publishing the list:

We agree, of course, that crime-ranking information contains many variables and that all must be considered carefully. But as journalists, we take very seriously our responsibility to keep Americans informed — even if the news is not good. So we publish such data, even if it causes cities and officials to feel aggrieved.

I can understand the frustration of city officials who are suddenly barraged with questions about a list that doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, but instead of bragging that Oakland is actually pretty safe if you’re rich, and quibbling about whether the statistics are perfectly calibrated, wouldn’t a more appropriate response be to acknowledge that Oakland’s crime is too high, and explain their plans to reduce it?