The Milwaukee Police Department recently supplied the members of the Fire and Police Commission (including yours truly) with some quite interesting data on violent crime rates within the nation’s 50 poorest cites. As one might expect, the very poorest cities on the list generally tend to have the worst rates of violent crime. The correlation, however, is far from absolute. Several cities on the list impressively over-perform or under-perform relative to their poverty rates. To focus on this, I present below a much simplified version of the table prepared by the MPD, which is based on 2009 data.
|Poverty Rank||Violent Crime Rank|
|Buffalo, New York||3||6|
|St. Louis, Missouri||5||1|
|Newark, New Jersey||10||24|
|New Orleans, Louisiana||12||29|
|St. Paul, Minnesota||18||31|
|El Paso, Texas||20||49|
|Santa Ana, California||29||47|
|Los Angeles, California||30||37|
|San Antonio, Texas||31||43|
|Long Beach, California||33||34|
|Ft. Worth, Texas||37||41|
|Corpus Christi, Texas||38||27|
|New York, New York||39||44|
|Kansas City, Missouri||49||8|
|Albuqueque, New Mexico||50||30|
So which cities do best and worst?
Here are the top ten over-performers, in terms of difference between the violent-crime rank and the poverty rank:
1. El Paso (violent crime rank=49, poverty rate=20, difference=29)
2T. Fresno (38-16=22)
2T. Tuscon (35-13=22)
4. Phoenix (45-24=21)
5. Santa Ana, CA (47-29=18)
6T. Milwaukee (21-4=17)
6T. New Orleans (29-12=17)
8T. Columbus (33-19=14)
8T. Dallas (28-14=14)
8T. Newark (24-10=14)
Here are the top (bottom?) ten under-performers:
1. Oakland (poverty rank=46, violent-crime rank=4, difference=42)
2. Kansas City, MO (49-8=41)
3. Washington, DC (41-10=31)
4. Nashville (45-16=29)
5. Boston (47-22=27)
6. Albuquerque (50-30=20)
7. Baltimore (25-5=20)
8. Indianapolis (28-12=16)
9T. Tulsa (32-19=13)
9T. Stockton, CA (22-9=13)
Obviously, some cities do quite a bit better than others in dealing with the tendency of poverty to generate violent crime. Why is that? Good (and bad) policing probably plays a role, but there are probably many other factors, too.
Here’s another way of thinking about the data. Milwaukee and St. Louis have almost exactly the same poverty rate (27 percent), but St. Louis’s rate of violent crime is nearly twice as high (21 versus 11 per 1,000 residents). Evidently, that 1982 World Series victory did little over the long run to improve St. Louis’s fortunes relative to Milwaukee’s.
Meanwhile, Nashville’s poverty rate is about one-third less than Milwaukee’s (27 versus 17 percent), but the two cities have the same rate of violent crime. And Nashville’s crime rate is nearly double that of Louisville, even though Louisville’s poverty is slightly higher.
There are many interesting questions, not the least of which is what is the secret to El Paso’s success? With a population that is basically the same as Milwaukee’s (619,000 there and 605,000 here), and a poverty rate not a lot lower (23 versus 27 percent), El Paso had less than half of Milwaukee’s number of violent crimes in 2009 (2,830 versus 6,584). At least we’re not Baltimore (639,000, 21 percent, 9,664).
In a later post, I’ll compare this 2009 data with similar data from 2007.