A CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE – Article by Abidan Paul Shah
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 22, 2015)
After my last article – “Why we love our community?” – many of the readers thanked me for refuting a report floating on Facebook that we are one of the worst places to live in North Carolina. I explained that such town rankings do not factor “population dynamics, high crime areas, and latest annual crime reports” in their raw data analyses. Some of the readers asked me to clarify further, so here goes–
Neither the SBI nor the FBI ranks geographical areas (town, city, county) based on crime reports. In fact, the FBI webpage for Uniform Crime Reporting cautions that such “incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographical entities and their residents.” It also warns against using the report to evaluate the effectiveness of any law agency. There are numerous factors – clearance rates, part II offenses, arrest rates, etc. – which are not included in the report that should be taken into account.
So who comes up with these rankings? A quick search on Google reveals that it is online marketing sites promising to give objective analysis of places, products, and services. Here you will find articles such as, “Best Places to Live,” “Ten Cheapest Cities,” and “Most Dangerous Towns.” Their analysis is anything but objective. One actually declares, “We try to paint a picture of what’s happening in a region based on ‘FridayNight Science’ – how’d you argue at a bar.” And where do they get their information? From the latest FBI crime reports! By statistical gymnastics they create an “aggregated crime score,” weighting the violent crimes at 90% and property crimes at 10%, even though the property crimes are far more prevalent. Factors such as high crime zones, relationship of the assailant to the victim, and motive for the crime are never considered.
Recently, one such site ranked Elon as 1st among the top 100 safest cities in North Carolina while Henderson trailed in at 98. I’ve visited Elon and it’s a wonderful place but before you rent a U-Haul, here’s what a similar site reported: When Elon is compared to Henderson – Household income in Elon is 61% less than it is in Henderson and 67% below National Average; Elon had 39.6% fewer High School graduates than Henderson; Elon spends 10.4% less per student than Henderson. Furthermore, Elon is 33% more densely populated and 9.7% more expensive than Henderson. How about crime? Of course, by their pseudo-math, we appear to be a war zone! Bottom line: All such ranking is faulty and haphazard at best. Even the most ideal places have their share of problems. According to the SBI Crime Index, a safe community like Cary saw a 9% rise in overall crime in recent years.
I am by no means trying to gloss over our problems. All I am suggesting is that we are not as unredeemable as we are made out to be. What we need is a change in perspective. Instead of looking back with nostalgia or looking around with condemnation, we need to look inward with soul searching. What have we done to improve our community? Are we being the Salt and Light in our world? Ultimately, it’s not the courthouse or the jailhouse but the church house that has the answer. By the way, here’s one ranking that caught my eye – “People living in Henderson are 6.88% more likely to have a religious affiliation than people living in Elon.”