News Politics

"Intellectually dishonest" report claims OTR is nation’s most dangerous neighborhood

Crime and public safety is a tricky issue. Simply throwing more police is not always the solution, just as adding additional social service programs doesn’t always do the trick. What is generally accepted though is that economics tend to drive criminal behavior.

A “study” that came out yesterday reported that Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine is the most dangerous neighborhood in the country. That’s right, the most dangerous. Besides not even passing the smell test, this study fails in several regards: outdated data, selective boundary drawing and lack of human understanding of reality.

Data Inconsistencies:
The report’s methodology cites that: “Violent crimes included are the violent crimes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. Based on multiple years of data, and predicted to the individual neighborhood level by NeighborhoodScout’s exclusive crime models, we list the top 25 most dangerous. The rating is based on the predicted number of violent crimes in the neighborhood per 1,000 population of the neighborhood.”

Using this methodology one can look at what they examined for the slice of Over-the-Rhine that they examined and extrapolated for the rest of the neighborhood. The study look at areas found within the 45210 and 45214 zip codes (part of northwest OTR and some of the West End) and they predicted an annual violent crime count of 457. They then created a violent crime rate (per 1,000) and came up with a 266.94 figure. Finally this all translates into what they claim is a 1 in 4 chance of being a victim in one year in Over-the-Rhine.

Here’s the problem with their analysis. In 2007 the crime statistics for Over-the-Rhine (full neighborhood) registered a total of 390 violent crimes. So if all of Over-the-Rhine had 390 violent crimes in 2007, why would they project 457 violent crimes in 1/4th of the neighborhood?

According to 2000 Census Over-the-Rhine has 6,497 people*. At 390 violent crimes in 2007, the violent rate per 1000 would be 60.02 (1/2 of the 25th Most Dangerous Neighborhood) and five times less than the report from this “study.”

Crime trends based on Cincinnati Police Department public records

The report is based on the FBI’s Unified Crime Reports. If you take a brief second or two out of your life you can read the clear warning on their site regarding the use of this data for comparison purposes.

“Each year when Crime in the United States is published, some entities use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.

The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment. “Variables Affecting Crime” in Crime in the United States has more information on this topic.”

3CDC’s Response:
The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) is a group of local corporations in Cincinnati that have worked towards redeveloping Cincinnati’s center city into a vibrant, safe and livable area that is appealing to a diverse collection of people including the talent they are attempting to attract to Cincinnati.

3CDC’s Kelly Leon also stated that she spoke with Lt. Mark Briede from the Cincinnati Police Department today, and he informed her that crime stats for January-May 2009 compared to January-May 2005 indicates a 36% drop in violent crime in Over-the-Rhine. This is important, because the study that was released only examined data from 2005 to 2007 and ignored the most recent crime data available to the public.

3CDC has been intimately involved in Over-the-Rhine for several years now working on the area in Over-the-Rhine known as the Gateway Quarter where almost $100 million of private investment has occurred and resulted in hundreds of new residential units and dozens of new businesses. Below you can see the statement released by 3CDC in response to what they consider to be an “intellectually dishonest” report.

“The study released today regarding Over-the-Rhine (OTR) focuses on approximately 20 square blocks, some of them not even located in OTR and is based on data that is more than two and a half years old. In fact, reported crime through 2008 in the area of OTR south of Liberty Street, known as OTR Gateway, is down 37% since 2004.

“OTR is 110 square blocks and includes several neighborhood districts including OTR Gateway, centered at the corner of 12th and Vine streets. This area, and other OTR census tract areas, was not part of the study.

“It is unfortunate and intellectually dishonest that the entire neighborhood was labeled in such a negative way. The fact is, $84 million has been invested in OTR Gateway since 2004 and new home owners and business owners are investing in the neighborhood. This past Saturday, a 5K run and day-long Summer Celebration arts festival brought about 2,000 people to the corner of 12th and Vine to shop, eat and listen to music. The only problem was that some of our vendors didn’t anticipate such a large crowd and ran out of food.”

Area of Over-the-Rhine examined

Reality On The Ground:
Crunching the numbers only gets you so far, as you can often manipulate data to tell what ever story it is you want to tell. The reality is what is experienced on the ground, and my hunch is that this computer model never took a visit to Over-the-Rhine to meet the people, business owners and visitors that love the neighborhood.

Feeling safe in an area is often a subjective item. One person may feel more comfortable in an area than someone else. If I feel comfortable walking around Findlay Market’s nearby streets (which I do) and someone else does not, then who is right?

If you have never been to a place then how can you reasonably make an assumption on its safety as you would perceive it. I have often given tours to out-of-towners visiting Cincinnati and considering a move into a Downtown or Over-the-Rhine dwelling unit. Instead of telling them if the neighborhood is safe or not I take them for a walk through the neighborhood and let them decide for themselves. Often times after they see the single women, children playing outside and individuals walking dogs they get the feeling that the hype isn’t always true.

Officer Daniel O`Malley of the Cincinnati Police Department’s District 1 – photo by Ronny Salerno

Ronny Salerno did a great write up of his own on this very topic. He examined the study’s findings and compared them to his personal experiences of doing “ride-alongs” with District 1 police officers that patrol Over-the-Rhine.

Ronny also goes on to discuss his observations, of the neighborhood, from his exploration of the neighborhood’s architecture, abandoned buildings and newly renovated structures. Personal knowledge and experience seems to trump all, and those that know Over-the-Rhine know that this report is not only outdated, but it is flat out wrong and illustrates lazy research that is distanced from reality.

*UrbanCincy originally reported that Over-the-Rhine’s population was 7,638 with a violent crime rate of 51.6.  In fact, Over-the-Rhine’s actual population is 6,497 resulting in a violent crime rate of 60.02.  The error occurred due to the inclusion of Census Tract 11 which includes the Pendleton neighborhood immediately adjacent to Over-the-Rhine.

By Randy A. Simes

Randy is an award-winning urban planner who founded UrbanCincy in May 2007. He grew up on Cincinnati’s west side in Covedale, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally acclaimed School of Planning in June 2009. In addition to maintaining ownership and serving as the managing editor for UrbanCincy, Randy has worked professionally as a planning consultant throughout the United States, Korea and the Middle East. After brief stints in Atlanta and Chicago, he currently lives in the Daechi neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district.