Mayors Condemn "Most Dangerous Cities" Rankings; Book's Release Delayed

It's that time of the year -- football games, turkey dinners, leafy streets ... and the much-anticipated, much-maligned release of the country's most dangerous cities, as tabulated by the independent publisher CQ Press. As we all know, St. Louis currently holds the top slot on the list, much to the resentment of city boosters like Mayor Francis Slay who denounce the methodology as flawed.

Slay is not the only mayor in America who can't stand the rankings, which appear each year in a book called City Crime Rankings. This week the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a press release slamming the study, calling it "bogus and damaging" and "an annual misuse of FBI crime data at the expense of the reputations and economies of this nation's cities."

This year's publication of City Crime Rankings has been pushed back to December 8. (Last year's rankings went public November 22.) The cost is $75.

The rankings chart incidents of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. According to the survey, St. Louis had the highest crime rate in 2009 with 2,070.1 violent crimes per 100,000 population, compared with a national average of 429.4.

But city leaders explain that a multitude of variables that differ between cities take away the study's credibility.

"Everyone with the slightest knowledge of this issue knows the rankings are not credible, but the publication persists with them, presumably because rankings are popular and sell books," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors Criminal and Social Justice Committee, in the press release.

More from the release:

  • Cities differ in ways which have nothing to do with their crime risk, but which can greatly affect their ranking. Pure geographic happenstance -- the location of the boundary line separating city and suburb -- is one. Cities that are geographically small and do not include as many middle-class areas as larger cities may be arbitrarily penalized.
  • Cities differ in the degree to which their citizens report crimes and in how crime is reported. How much of the difference between any two cities' crime ranks is real and how much reflects differences in measurement and reporting systems is not known.
  • Compared with genuine risk factors such as age, lifestyle, and the neighborhood within a given city in which a person lives, simply knowing the city of residence reveals next to nothing about that person's crime risk.

A message left for CQ Press has not yet been returned.

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