Saturday, February 7, 2015

How Many Incidents in a Trend?

I've lived a pretty sheltered life, OK? Never been mugged or attacked (while in the U.S.), never had my house broken into, never even had a cabbie try to rip me off. That I can remember.

But when you live in a city and work in a crowded, public building, you're constantly reminded to maintain "situational awareness," hold your phone with both hands, avoid this or that area at night, and "when you see something, say something."

D.C. used to be known variously as "Drama City" and the "murder capital" of America during the 80s and 90s, as the violent crime rate soared high above our stunted southern skyline. Things have improved vastly in the past 20 years or so, though the revitalization has brought its own set of problems. But I've always felt mostly safe in the four neighborhoods I've lived in since moving here.

In the past few weeks though, my neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant/Columbia Heights has seen more than its fair share of incidents- some robberies, a stabbing, bike-borne smartphone theft, and a group of youth who attacked a woman at random. I even saw two guys fighting, like literally trying to beat the crap out of each other, on the corner of 14th and Irving, the unofficial hub of Columbia Heights. Oh, and yesterday some muggers shot a guy 2 blocks from my house.

And now some of the commentary on our neighborhood blogs like PoPville and New Columbia Heights express a lot of anxiety over a general uptick in crime and blight in our neighborhood(s) over the past 2 years, backsliding from all the progress that had been made.

I've never had a head for numbers, and I was not the star of statistics class in college. But I did learn one very important critical thinking skill there: don't let "vivid cases," exemplary incidents that stand out in your mind, trick you into seeing a pattern where there isn't one. Obviously we're nowhere near the levels of crime and blight that the long-neglected neighborhoods east of the Anacostia have been dealing with. Everything is relative, and even these small incidents no doubt burn brightly in the minds of people not used to seeing them. But what sort of predictive power do they have, if any?

So a thought for this weekend is "how many incidents does it take to make a pattern?" Is my adopted home actually backsliding, and if so, how worried should I be? Or, are these just the fits and starts of a neighborhood and city in an ongoing transition, and I should pay less attention to upper-middle class (mostly) white-gentrifier anxiety over crime?

Maybe the police could release some statistics already so we'd be able to know for sure.      


No comments:

Post a Comment