There was an odd juxtaposition in the results of Boulder’s most recent community survey: Although 91% of respondents said they felt safe overall in the city, they also noted and reported more crime than they had in 2016.
Those perceptions appear to coincide with an actual rise in crime, although preliminary figures provided by the police department indicate the public is overestimating how much lawlessness has grown over two years.
Police chief Greg Testa and the keeper of data, Patricia Raab, started taking a look at crime stats once the results of the survey were made public. The data took a bit of massaging; publicly available stats can’t be used, because they count each criminal act, not merely reports.
For instance, Raab said, if someone broke into and then stole your car, they would be charged for unlawfully access the vehicle and for stealing it. That one instance would show up as two crimes. Often, there are numerous counts for a single report.
To get at what was revealed in the survey, Raab pulled out the number of reports rather than crimes. Similar combing was needed to ascertain the number of victims, separated into individual sand businesses. (If someone steals your purse, you’re the victim, Raab said. If someone steals from Target, Target is the victim.)
It’s not terribly scientific, she said, but it’s the best measure for direct comparison to the survey. And it shows that residents are onto something.
In 2016, there were 9,751 reports that contained at least one offense; 5,565 individual victims and 1,558 business victims. In 2018, the number of reports rose to 10,438 and victims to 6,141 (individual) and 1,643 (business).
That’s a much smaller increase in real crime compared to perceived crime. Respondents who said that a member of their households had been a victim of a crime in the past 12 months more than doubled from 7% in 2016 to 17% in 2018 — a nearly 143% jump. The actual number of victims, according to police data, rose by just over 9% in two years.
And while 33% more respondents said they had reported a crime to police (15% said as much in 2016, while 20% did in 2018), the actual increase in reports was 7.05%.
Residents’ satisfaction with crime prevention dropped by 5 percentage points over the past two years: 75% rated it excellent or good in 2016, 70% did in 2018. That’s totally out of sync with reality, according to police spokeswoman Shannon Aulabaugh.
“We have more crime prevention programming now then in 2016,” she said via email to Boulder Beat. “Some examples include the Neighborhood Policing Area Program and Homeless Outreach Team.”
What kinds of crime are becoming more prevalent is still unknown; that will require deeper digging into the data. There were a record number of homicides in Boulder County in 2017, and the Daily Camera in June reported that mid-year numbers were twice as high as typical.
Homicides have increased nationally in recent years as well, according to a June report from the Congressional Research Service. Still, murder remains a mere fraction of total crime, and rates of all violent crimes are near historic lows.
Also unclear is why local crime is rising at all, or why there is a mismatch between perception and reality when it comes to how much crime is occurring. Media coverage can sway opinion, a representative from the survey company, Boulder-based National Research Center, noted during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Americans are also notoriously bad at gauging decreases in criminal activity. A recent Pew Research Center article pointed out that “in 18 of 22 Gallup surveys since 1993 that have asked about national crime, at least six-in-ten Americans said there was more crime in the U.S. compared with the year before.” This despite the fact that rates of all crime have consistently declined since the early 1990s.
Boulder Engagement Manager Sarah Huntley said Tuesday that all city departments had received pertinent survey results and would follow up on the findings. For the full results of the 2016 and 2018 surveys, go to https://bouldercolorado.gov/city-manager/community-survey
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