Tuesday, November 17 2009

I do not recognize this place

Something about this story just seems a bit, shall we say, “over-hyped”:

In the space of 11 days this year, seven people were murdered in Salinas. Each killing, like the record 25 homicides the previous year, spilled from the gang warfare that this summer pushed the homicide rate in the city of 140,000 to three times that of Los Angeles. Residents retreated indoors at night, and Mayor Dennis Donohue affirmed his decision to seek help from an unlikely source: the U.S. military.

“Obviously, there are restrictions,” said Salinas Deputy Police Chief Kelly McMillin. “Not only the constitutional part of it, but just the idea we are going to have choppers fast-roping onto Alisal Street.”

As far as I can tell, it boils down to: “not many jobs right now for young male unskilled workers who don’t speak much English, so joining a gang seems like a good idea; at least, until you get used as cannon fodder in a fight against another gang”.

And, of course, when the total number of homicides is so low, it’s easy for one or two serious incidents to dramatically alter the rate, creating a dramatic “worse than LA” comparison.

Not to imply that there are no problems. It’s quite clear from the statistical data that, taken as a whole, the Salinas SMSA has crime rates comparable to much larger cities; it’s just highly concentrated geographically. The warzone they paint in the article is nothing like the kid-friendly neighborhood where I handed out big handfuls of candy on Halloween night to roving bands of (often unescorted) little monsters.

[Update: a quick bit of math to show the rate swing: in 2006, the homicide rate was only 82% of the national average (4.7 versus 5.7), while in 2008 it was three times higher (17.4 versus 5.8). Since these are numbers per 100,000, and the current population is 148,350, that’s a difference of 11 homicides. The rate was also significantly lower than the national average from 1987 to 1991, which happens to be a period with low unemployment and lots of construction.]