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Murder rate reporting that deserves to be killed

Headline from
Violent Crime Down Across The Board In Mpls.

Headline from

Violent Crime Down Across The Board In Mpls. In 2011

As translated by

Murder rate drops by 70 percent in Minneapolis

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Mind you, “2011” means all of 31 January days, while “70 percent” means a drop from seven to two in that period.

Welcome to another episode of “January gets too much attention,” in which small sample sizes are misleadingly cast as something bigger because of the calendar’s first page. Although this year it’s good news — as opposed to the January 2010 headlines that screamed “Minneapolis homicides: Murderapolis redux?” — it’s as useless.

Thankfully, neither WCCO nor Bring used the single-month data to flirt with a 2011 projection, like the “Murderapolis”-huffing City Pages did last year — a year that concluded with the second-fewest homicides since 1986.

Even if the headlines are ridiculous, both current reports are technically accurate. There is some news in a crime drop, even if it’s only a month’s worth. Of course, if such a period were truly meaningful, we’d see a lot more April-versus-April or September-versus-September stories. Bring’s headline would’ve lost a lot of oomph had it said “January murder rate down 70 percent.”

While the ‘CCO headline at least focused on violent crime, as any cop will tell you, homicide is simply too occasional to make for meaningful monthly comparisons. In that sense, it’s less relevant than, say, monthly retail sales figures with many more transactions.

The public might be better served if the media more often reported rolling 12-month comparisons. At least you have a constant timeframe not dependent of the calendar’s whims — and the weather’s. As one WCCO commenter noted, January’s drop occurred in a torturously snowy, frigid month.

[Hat tip: JustACoolCat. Also to MPR’s Bob Collins, who notes it’s homicide, not murder.]