Natchez crime not even close to New Orleans

Published 12:07am Friday, May 31, 2013

Anyone who spends time listening to a police scanner, like I do, might get the impression that most of what happens in our community is bad.

For the past 13 years, the scanner has been my officemate in The Natchez Democrat newsroom.

Since then, my work days have been spent listening to dispatchers directing police officers, firemen, sheriff’s deputies and emergency personnel to wrecks, fires and other emergency situation.

The scanner is filled with reports of crimes ranging from shootings and murders to fights and domestic disputes. Occasionally there are more unique calls, including reports of bones found in a chimney, a deer in a dentist office, recreational vehicles in the river, elephants in the road and more snake calls than you would ever want to know about.

For the most part, though, the news on the scanner is rarely good.

Some say the same thing about the newspaper and other news media outlets. While I might differ with those who accuse the newspaper of rarely publishing good news, we do run our fair share of crime stories.

And those crime stories do gain a lot of attention. On the newspaper’s website, such stories are read two or three times as much as stories that spotlight the good things in our community — students excelling in school, record achievements in sports, volunteers helping out the less fortunate and other good deeds.

Fear has a way of driving people to bad news. It also has a way of coloring the facts and our view of our community.

When Wednesday’s story of the shooting on Daisy and Inez streets broke on our website, it didn’t take long for someone to make a comment about how Natchez is becoming another New Orleans, a city that has gained national attention as the murder capitol of the country.

It may appear that way to commenters and others who view our city similarly, but the numbers do not tell the same story.

In 2011, New Orleans had 199 murders, according to the FBI that keeps such statistics.

Murder is the benchmark used by criminologists to determine how safe a city is, because killings are almost always reported.  The statistic is hard to manipulate.

In order to compare cities of varying size, the FBI assigns each city a murder rate per 100,000 people. Crime data for 2012 has yet to be released. For New Orleans in 2011, the murder rate was 57.6 murders per 100,000.

At that rate, 10 people would have had to have been murdered in Natchez to equal New Orleans. Natchez had 4 murders in 2011.

Before residents celebrate, though, it must be pointed out that the 2011 murder rate does exceed the average murder rate for U.S. cities. In fact, our community’s murder rate is five times higher than the U.S. average. That is a problem for our city and one that needs serious review and discussion.

Despite all of the national attention, New Orleans’ murder rate is down this year. So far 62 murders have been committed according to a Times Picayune report.

Thankfully, Natchez has seen only one murder halfway into 2013. It is an improvement from 2011, so far, but that statistic could have easily doubled or tripled Wednesday night on Daisy and Inez streets.

Do we have a violent crime problem in Natchez? Certainly. But is it anywhere close to New Orleans?

Take out the fear, and the numbers say no.

 

Ben Hillyer is design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.