Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Forbes Rates The Anchorage, Alaska Metro Area Fifth Most Dangerous In America; Rating Appears Pessimistic

Update October 7th: APD Chief Mark Mew and Anchorage mayoral candidate Paul Honeman respond to the Forbes report.

Alaska Dispatch calls our attention to a Forbes crime study which shows Anchorage to be a dangerous city. Forbes has published a slide show of what they consider the ten most dangerous cities, or more precisely, metro areas in the United States.

Some of the entries were expected. For example, they rate Detroit the most dangerous city in America. No surprise here; Detroit is a de facto Third World city with a propped-up showcase downtown section. Flint, Michigan is rated number 4; Flint is just a smaller version of Detroit.

But some entries are surprising, though. Lubbock, Texas is ranked number 6; Lubbock has never been characterized as "crime-ridden". Particularly surprising is Forbes' designation of Anchorage as number 5. According to the specific page on Anchorage:

With 813 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Anchorage has a somewhat higher crime rate than cities of comparable size, and a rate that is double the size of Alaska as a whole. It is the largest city in the state, but it also has the largest rate of forcible rape, which contributes to Anchorage’s high crime statistics. Property crime, while not factored into our survey, is also double Alaska’s rate. Methamphetamine use has been a perennial problem in Anchorage and elsewhere in the state, and although laws have been passed to limit access to the pharmaceuticals necessary to manufacture meth in the state, a steady supply of the drug is still flowing in from Mexico.

Methodology: Forbes used the FBI’s uniform crime report for 2010, which tallies crime data for each of the country’s metropolitan statistical areas, regions that usually consist of a large city and its suburbs or clusters of closely linked smaller cities, and metropolitan divisions, which are core areas within some of the larger MSAs. They only considered areas with 200,000 or greater population. They used the FBI’s numbers for four categories of violent crimes: murder and non-negligent manslaughter; forcible rape; robbery; and aggravated assault. They do not factor in property crimes. One must also remember that crimes have to be reported in order to be tracked, so a study alone cannot discriminate between whether there is a genuine upsurge in crimes committed, or a mere increase in crimes reported.

However, based upon my 19-year residency in Anchorage, I question whether or not Anchorage truly is the fifth most dangerous city in America. To get a broader perspective, I turned to a reliable source which publishes their own rankings each year: CQ Press. CQ Press's 2010 Crime Rankings show Anchorage ranked number 115 highest out of 400 cities. But to my surprise, CQ's ranking of metro areas does show the Anchorage MSA ranked number 18 highest out of 347 MSAs rated. The Anchorage MSA also includes the southern part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (the Palmer-Wasilla-Meadow Lakes corridor), so maybe there is an upsurge in crime in Mat-Su which distorts Anchorage's statistics. A recent survey by the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage does indicates that more than half of all Anchorage women have been the victims of domestic or sexual assault during their lifetimes.

So while I'll admit that Anchorage does have more crimes than the median, it is a gross exaggeration to claim that it is the fifth most dangerous city in the United States. Here's a more candid assessment of crime vulnerability:

-- Neighborhoods: Most neighborhoods are safe. Even the two riskiest neighborhoods, Fairview and Mountain View, have safe areas; use the Anchorage Police Department's official crime map to find out what parts of town are most susceptible to specific categories of crime. Anchorage does not have the hard core minority racial ghettoes which are specific breeding grounds for violent crime in Lower 48 cities; most neighborhoods are either majority-White or are multicultural, meaning no one particular race constitutes 50 percent or more of the neighborhood's residents. In addition, there have been no incidents of flash mob violence which have plagued cities not making Forbes' list, such as Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

-- Parks and Trails: Many of our parks are infested with chronically-homeless people. While most of them simply want to be left alone, a number of them prey upon users of our parks and trails systems. Unaccompanied women incur the greatest risk, but Anchorage citizens have a tradition of intervening to stop such attacks. One has almost as great of a risk encountering a moose or a bear in our parks as a human predator.

The bottom line: It is still relatively easy to avoid being a crime victim in Anchorage without becoming a hermit and hiding in your house.

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