Online numbers distort local crime report

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 10, 2004

[11/10/04]Online crime statistics for the City of Vicksburg show a higher murder rate than the city of New York, something local officials say is an unfortunate distortion of the numbers.

Vicksburg and Warren County officials meeting jointly Tuesday said crime statistics being reported on the Internet inflate the actual amount of crime here and make it difficult to attract retirees, professionals and new industries to the area. Vicksburg is a Certified Retirement Community, but has to maintain a low crime rate to keep that designation.

One Web site that reports crime statistics for cities across the country is According to that site, Vicksburg had a per capita murder rate of 18.76 in 2002 while New York City’s rate was 7.26.

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The national average that year was 5.6 homicides per 100,000 people, according to the site. Those numbers were derived from the FBI’s crime statistics, which track major offenses.

“We have a data distortion problem here,” said Warren County District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders.

The problem city and county officials have with sites like is that the numbers used include crimes outside the municipal limits, but do not take into account the population outside the city. For example, the 18.76 per capita murder rate for Vicksburg was based on a total of five homicides in 2002 in Vicksburg and Warren County and the city’s population of about 26,407.

Per capita rates are figured by dividing the number of crimes by the population and then multiplying that out by 100,000 to calculate how many murders there would be for every 100,000 people. Using a smaller base population makes the per capita rate higher.

New York City has a population of about 8 million and encompasses more than one county, but per-capita rates are the generally accepted method for comparing cities of different size.

Local officials say that Vicksburg’s per capita rate should have taken into account the entire county’s population of about 49,664, almost double the city’s, which would have brought the per capita rate down to about 10.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said the question is relativity. He said that social and economic conditions play a big factor in crime and that Vicksburg cannot be compared with cities of millions.

“If two people in a hundred get murdered and 10 people in a thousand get murdered, which is worse? I’d rather live in a town that has two murders a year than a town that has 10 murders a year,” Leyens said.

Since 2002, the number of violent crimes reported in Vicksburg and Warren County has gone down. The FBI released crime statistics last week for 2003 that showed three homicides reported locally, bringing the per capita figure down to 6. For that same year, New York reported 597 murders, a per capita rate of 7.37, and New Orleans reported 274 murders, a per capita rate of 57.66.

In Mississippi, Southaven reported no homicides in 2003 and Jackson reported 45, a per capita rate of 24.79. Natchez had two homicides, but with a county population of 33,233, the per capita rate was 6, about the same as Vicksburg’s.

Leyens said that statistics being reported by the FBI and for Vicksburg also include some misdemeanor arrests such as for domestic violence. Mississippi state law requires law enforcement to arrest one or both parties involved in a domestic violence incident, but only a third conviction is considered a felony.

Leyens said those arrests are being included in the aggravated assault cases being reported online.