Thoughts on Santa Ana being ranked as 4th safest major city in U.S.




List of Santa Ana most wanted

From “4th Safest Big City” Santa Ana’s web page: a list of its “Most Wanted.”  Orange Juice Blog would like to remind readers that you are not to try to apprehend these suspects on your own and we cannot be held responsible for the consequences if you do.

I saw this mentioned on the RSS feed for New Santa Ana, where hovering over the feed informed me that

Santa Ana has been selected as the fourth safest city in the United States of America, by Forbes. To find America’s 10 safest cities, Forbes looked at metropolises with populations above 250,000.  They then ranked them by violent crime rates—the number of violent crimes (murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault) per 100,000 residents in 2010 …

Interesting!,  I thought.  Let’s chek this out!  But when I clicked the link I got another 404 error.  I thought “huh, was Admin punked by someone?”  So I checked it out, and Admin was not punked.  It’s true: Forbes Magazine last week named Santa Ana as the 4th safest U.S. city among the 73 with populations of 250,000 or more.  (One of those 73 cities was, however, disqualified.  To find out which, you can click that link.  Or you can try to worm it out of me in comments.)

Here’s the study’s methodology:

To find America’s 10 safest cities, we looked at metropolises with populations above 250,000. We ranked them by violent crime rates—the number of violent crimes (murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault) per 100,000 residents in 2010, as reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Because the FBI only compiles data from municipalities that submit complete reports, we were only able to look at 72 cities. …

We also ranked each city on the traffic-fatality rate per 100,000 residents based on 2009 data, the most recent available, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We then averaged the ranking for each city to arrive at final scores. In the event of ties, the city with the lower crime rate got the higher ranking.

Out of the 72 big cities, Santa Ana ranked 4th in car fatalities and 11th in violent crime.

The top 3 cities were Dallas suburb Plano, TX; Las Vegas suburb Henderson, NV; and Honolulu, HI.  Like #10 New York City, Honolulu apparently benefitted from — and this is from the article, not my editorializing — the fact that its streets are so congested that drivers generally cannot work up enough speed for fatal car accidents.  Santa Ana’s roughly 8 miles of freeways (5, 22, 55) may help out in this category.

Still, being #11 out of 72 in violent crime per capita is a significant achievement, especially given Santa Ana’s high density.  Right?  That’s what I thought, too.  So then I went to verify the story — and the FBI website throws a big pop-up warning at you right away, linking to a page literally named “Caution Against Ranking”:

Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities—news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our Nation—use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.

Consider other characteristics of a jurisdiction

To assess criminality and law enforcement’s response from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one must consider many variables, some of which, while having significant impact on crime, are not readily measurable or applicable pervasively among all locales. Geographic and demographic factors specific to each jurisdiction must be considered and applied if one is going to make an accurate and complete assessment of crime in that jurisdiction. Several sources of information are available that may assist the responsible researcher in exploring the many variables that affect crime in a particular locale. The U.S. Census Bureau data, for example, can be used to better understand the makeup of a locale’s population. The transience of the population, its racial and ethnic makeup, its composition by age and gender, educational levels, and prevalent family structures are all key factors in assessing and comprehending the crime issue.

Local chambers of commerce, government agencies, planning offices, or similar entities provide information regarding the economic and cultural makeup of cities and counties. Understanding a jurisdiction’s industrial/economic base; its dependence upon neighboring jurisdictions; its transportation system; its economic dependence on nonresidents (such as tourists and convention attendees); its proximity to military installations, correctional facilities, etc., all contribute to accurately gauging and interpreting the crime known to and reported by law enforcement.

The strength (personnel and other resources) and the aggressiveness of a jurisdiction’s law enforcement agency are also key factors in understanding the nature and extent of crime occurring in that area. Although information pertaining to the number of sworn and civilian employees can be found in this publication, it cannot be used alone as an assessment of the emphasis that a community places on enforcing the law. For example, one city may report more crime than a comparable one, not because there is more crime, but rather because its law enforcement agency, through proactive efforts, identifies more offenses. Attitudes of the citizens toward crime and their crime reporting practices, especially concerning minor offenses, also have an impact on the volume of crimes known to police.

Make valid assessments of crime

It is incumbent upon all data users to become as well educated as possible about how to understand and quantify the nature and extent of crime in the United States and in any of the nearly 18,000 jurisdictions represented by law enforcement contributors to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the various unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.

Historically, the causes and origins of crime have been the subjects of investigation by many disciplines. Some factors that are known to affect the volume and type of crime occurring from place to place are:

    • Population density and degree of urbanization.
    • Variations in composition of the population, particularly youth concentration.
    • Stability of the population with respect to residents’ mobility, commuting patterns, and transient factors.
    • Modes of transportation and highway system.
    • Economic conditions, including median income, poverty level, and job availability.
    • Cultural factors and educational, recreational, and religious characteristics.
    • Family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness.
    • Climate.
    • Effective strength of law enforcement agencies.
    • Administrative and investigative emphases of law enforcement.
    • Policies of other components of the criminal justice system (i.e., prosecutorial, judicial, correctional, and probational).
    • Citizens’ attitudes toward crime.
    • Crime reporting practices of the citizenry.

Crime in the United States provides a nationwide view of crime based on statistics contributed by local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies. Population size and student enrollment are the only correlates of crime presented in this publication. Although many of the listed factors equally affect the crime of a particular area, the UCR Program makes no attempt to relate them to the data presented. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, counties, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment. Until data users examine all the variables that affect crime in a town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction, they can make no meaningful comparisons.

This almost prodded me to issue my own 404 error, before this made it onto OJB’s RSS feed, but I decided to stick with the story.  After all, Santa Ana is going to get lots of good press about this ranking, despite the above, and I would like to think that the city deserves it.  (For OC Weekly incredulous take on this honor, click here.)

The factor in the above list that jumps out at me, of course, is the last one: “crime reporting practices of the citizenry.”  Crime in Santa Ana is, perhaps somewhat contrary to possible expectations, ranks relatively very low.  But in a city with a large number of unauthorized residents — I avoid both the term “illegal aliens” and the inapposite euphemism “undocumented workers” — Santa Ana’s good ranking also reminds us that the violent crime statistics are only as good as the reporting of what violent crime takes place.  Where people are not comfortable reporting crime due to fear of removal from the country, crime statistics may look artificially good.

I don’t know that a bias against reporting violent crime is a major reason that Santa Ana ranks so well; I hope that it is not.  It is ironic, though that the consequence for the city of its police department doing its job right — and making sure that all citizens feel safe reporting violent crime — could well be that Santa Ana might no longer rank as highly as a “safest major city.”  We should all hope that the desire to have a good reality trumps the desire to have good statistics; as a corollary, if crime rates ever go up in Santa Ana due to increased reporting rather than increased incidence, we should recognize that that may not mean that the city is doing a worse job.  It may actually mean that the city is doing a better one.  We can assess this, perhaps, with studies of how free Santa Ana’s unauthorized residents feel to report violent crime.  That’s actually important — more so than even the Forbes story.

Absent such studies, it will be hard to tell which is which — and that is why these FBI statistics come with a warning.

I’m going to congratulate Santa Ana on this article nonetheless.  It’s good press for a city that can use it.  Let’s all hope that it is, and will be, well-earned.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)