New Reporting Metric Muddles Picture Of North Dakota Crime

North Dakota’s crime report for 2014 is out and, not surprisingly, it’s a mix bag of good and bad news.

“We do have some good news, and we have some very, very alarming bad news,” Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said during a press event about the report today.

You can read the full report below. What’s interesting is that for 2014 the AG’s office has begun using a new reporting method called the National Incident-Based Reporting System. This makes it difficult to go back and compare the statistics in today’s reports with previous years.

The AG’s office did provide data for what NBIRS calls Group A Crimes (the most serious offenses) going back a few years to 2010, and the trend looks no bueno because it is going up:

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But I think that if we stretched out the timeline a bit we could get some context to put the more recent crime rate into perspective. “The data displayed in this report should not be compared to the FBI Crime in the US 2014 report which will be published later this year,” the crime report issued today states. Which, you know, ok, but then shouldn’t we get numbers using the new metric further back than 2010?

Because if we look crime rate based on index crimes tracked by the FBI we see that crime is actually down in the state since 1999.image (1)

Now, to be sure, these two metrics are not measuring the same thing. Each tracks different crimes. There is some overlap, but generally the FBI tracks the most serious crimes while the new NIBRS metric is more comprehensive and tracks a much wider set of crimes. But wouldn’t it be interesting if we could look at the NIBRS metrics going back to 1999? Would it also show a higher crime rate back then, which might provide some perspective for more recent crime numbers?

If we’re going to use a new metric for measuring crime, then we should apply that metric to more than four previous years to provide more context for what the most recent numbers tell us.

Which isn’t to say that context changes the fact that crime is up in the state. And, of course, oil activity is going to get blamed, but there’s one thing to keep in mind. As the our crime rates change, have our population demographics.

University of North Dakota economist David Flynn has written a couple of interesting posts recently about the major shift in North Dakota’s age demographics. Our state is getting a lot younger.

For example, he compares the trend line for North Dakota’s median age to the nation and shows that while the rest of the United States has been getting a bit older North Dakota has gotten a lot younger:

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Breaking our population growth down by age demographic you can see that the younger ages have been growing rapidly in recent years:

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Why does this matter when we’re talking about crime? Because, per this data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, crime have a strong correlation to age:

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So yes, we’ve seen some substantial increases in crime in North Dakota over the last several years, but according to FBI data the crime rates are actually down from about 15 years ago and given our shifting age demographics a lot of more recent uptick in crime probably has to do with all the younger people coming to our state.

Back when North Dakota had a shrinking, aging populations our policy makers spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to lure younger workers to our state. That trend has been reversed, thanks to our state’s strong economy, but one of the unfortunate side effects is an increase in crime.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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