A Decade of Crime in Ferguson, MO.

A simple analysis of crime statistics for Ferguson, MO, for the period 2000 to 2012 shows some basic patterns.[1] Property crimes (theft, burglary, auto theft) accounted for an average of 92 percent of all crimes per year. Robbery and Assault in roughly equal numbers accounted for an average of 7.18 percent of all crimes per year. The occasional murder, rape, or arson accounts for the remaining 1 percent of all crimes per year.

Across the period:

Theft fell by 28 percent, with most the most distinct decline coming from 2004 on.

Burglary fell by 21 percent, but there was a huge upward spike in 2007 and 2008.

Auto Theft fell by 51.7 percent from 2012, but the problem fluctuated within that trend (rose from 2000-2004, fell slightly from 2005-2009, and then dropped sharply from 2010 -2012.)

Robbery fell by 22.4 percent from 2000 to 2012, but with a severe spike from 2007 to 2009.

Assault fell by 15.8 percent from 2000 to 2012, but there was a spike up in 2008.

What can we make of these numbers?

Broadly, the Ferguson Police Department could legitimately congratulate itself on having done a good job in making the citizens of the town safer between 2000 and 2012. This may not have been a state of mind in which to conduct a critical self-evaluation of methods or community relations.

Why did Theft fall? This isn’t likely to be a product of policing. Store-owners tend to be on their own in preventing theft by employees and customers. Did store-owners adopt more rigorous security measures? Security cameras in plain sight, electronic tags on goods, a friendly-but-aggressive staff that stays in contact with customers throughout their time in the store are key components of loss-prevention. This can come across as an aggressive display of distrust toward customers.

Why did Burglary fall? Did an increasing number of people in Ferguson get electronic security systems? Did they at least get the little yard signs that announce that the house is “Protected by …”? Was there an expansion of neighborhood watches? Did the police offer advising on the little things that can make burglary more difficult?[2]

Why did Auto Theft fall? Auto theft fell because stealing newer cars is much more difficult than stealing older cars.[3] The introduction of “engine immobilizer systems” from the late 1990s on made it almost impossible to steal new cars. Theft shifted to older cars that could be scrapped and sold for parts. In a poor town like Ferguson, there were probably a lot of older cars. Once stolen, however, they were replaced by newer cars that couldn’t be stolen.

The year 2008 represented a crisis for Ferguson police. Burglary, Robbery, and Assault all spiked. The increase in Burglary might reflect the appearance of a gang of burglars working Ferguson and possibly neighboring communities. The increase in Robbery might reflect the appearance of a group or a few individual criminals on a hiatus between prison sentences. In either case, the police may have been ordered to make their presence felt on the street.

In sum, there is still much to learn about Ferguson, MO in the wake of the two recent reports from the Justice Department. (See: “Ferguson, MO,” November 2014.)

[1] Based on http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Ferguson-Missouri.html

[2] Lock your doors and windows. Don’t leave a spare key “hidden” outside the house; don’t put the box for your new computer or television out in the trash; get somebody to take in your mail if you’re away.

[3] Josh Barro, “Here’s Why Stealing Cars Went Out of Fashion,” NYT, 11 August 2014.

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