REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK | Crime reporting and statistics


Do you ever wonder about crime in your neighborhood?  Crime reports can be some of the most sensational items included in a news broadcast or publication, but isolated incidents don’t give a full picture. News media often rely on statistical information to provide context to a story, but how can you know what the statistics mean and when they are significant?   When a triple-homicide took place in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside area this past January, news reporting focused not just on the events of that evening, but included an analysis of trends in crime statistics — specifically murder rates — in Minneapolis.  Were murders on the rise?  Was this normal for January?  Was crime just moving to different parts of the cities, getting better in some areas, while getting worse in others?  How did the Minneapolis crime story fit into the larger puzzle of crime statistics in America?

Unraveling this thread can be much more difficult than it may seem at first glance. Statistics come from many sources, and depending on how they are looked at, or reported, they can lead to very different conclusions. For example, what is the meaning of eight robberies in a week in a single neighborhood? One person robbing eight people is a notable story about an individual outlaw, while eight people each robbing one person is a rise in overall crime in the neighborhood.  

Similarly, asking questions about who is publishing statistics can help explain why some information is portrayed differently. Putting a more positive spin on statistics may involve delaying updates if they are negative. Not including important, but subtle data, and instead focusing on overall crime increases may alter impressions negatively.

Help Us Report this Story!

We are very interested in hearing from readers who have some perspective — either professionally or informally in your daily life — on reading or hearing crime statistics relayed through news media.  Was the information clear, and did it help give broader context to a specific story?  Or did it muddle the story, and make you question exactly how much crime was occurring in your neighborhood?

Also, if you are aware of any crime reporting statistical resources, or any other primary resources, please let us know!

Please contact Caitlin Burgess as we work to develop this story.  Caitlin can be reached at: or you can leave a comment at the end of this story.