Behind the Numbers: New Orleans crime likely to jump in 2016, but not all bad news   _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--People leave Louis Armstrong Airport after reports of a shooting in New Orleans, La. Friday, March 20, 2015.

Reported crime in New Orleans will likely rise in 2016 after falling by roughly 6 percent from 2014 to 2015. It is early in the year and historical trends can be bucked, but an evaluation of Calls for Service from 2011 to present suggests New Orleans is in store for a relatively sizable jump in its official crime statistics this year.

Calls for Service (CFS) is a really good predictor of official Uniform Crime Report (UCR) numbers. Although there’s not a ton of public insight into individual crimes counted for UCR, the FBI does provide a complete list of what constitutes a UCR Part I crime.

Person crimes include: criminal homicide, forcible rape, simple and armed robbery, aggravated assault and battery, burglary.

Property crimes include: theft — including shoplifting and pickpocketing, but not embezzlement or theft by fraud; motor vehicle theft and arson.

The city’s Calls for Service data enables us to count the number of what can be called ‘likely UCR Calls for Service’. These are calls for service in which a report was written in one of 38 NOPD signals (or crime categories) that make up UCR Person and Property crimes.

There is a near-perfect correlation (r – .998) between the number of Calls for Service in a given year and the number of UCR crimes in that year. In other words, adding up Calls for Service will tell us the direction of the city’s official crime statistics in near real time.

The other aspect to consider when estimating how crime will trend in 2016 is that many types of crime are seasonal. Armed robberies in New Orleans, for example, tend to rise in November and December and fall in February.

It is very early to be projecting crime for the rest of 2016, and any number of events could happen to dampen the rising crime. With that in mind, reviewing likely UCR Calls for Service for the six years from 2010 to 2015 shows that crime in New Orleans rises from the end of February through the end of the year.

This effect is seen by comparing the pace of likely UCR Calls for Service at the end of February with the final total. The end of year total was 9.8 percent more than the end of February total in 2010, 24.2 percent higher in 2011, 3.4 percent higher in 2012, 7.2 percent higher in 2013, 5.3 percent higher in 2014, and 4.7 percent higher in 2015. The average rise from the end of February to the end of the year from 2010 to 2015 was 8.5 percent, and the average rise was 5.1 percent from 2012 to 2015.

Another way of looking at this is to measure UCR crime by quarter. NOPD’s website provides

Measuring Calls for Service through the end of February, therefore, can be used to give us a good idea of what direction New Orleans crime is trending. As of Feb. 29, there had been 3,143 likely UCR Calls for Service in New Orleans. That translates to 19,172 likely UCR Calls for Service over the course of the year. As a leap year 2016 will have an extra day to accumulate Calls for Service.

The below chart shows the annualized pace of these likely UCR Calls for Service for every day of each year from 2011 to present.

As can be seen, the current pace is higher than it has been through February of any year dating to 2011 and significantly higher (11 percent as of the end of February) than it was at this point in 2015. The current pace, if realized exactly, would represent a 6 percent rise relative to 2015’s final total likely UCR Calls for Service. As I noted, however, recent history suggests that pace can be expected to increase over the remaining 10 months of the year. A rise of 5 percent between February and the end of 2016 –about what the city has averaged in recent years — would bring New Orleans UCR Part I crime up 11 percent from 2015.

It is possible, of course, that 2016 bucks the trend and sees a slowdown in crime over the last 10 months of the year. Recent history, however, suggests that is unlikely, and a sizable rise in crime is in order this year.

Why Is Crime Rising

Rising crime is never a “good” sign, but digging deeper into the ‘why’ suggests it may not inherently be a “bad” thing either. We cannot say whether there will be more violent crimes like armed robbery or murder in 2016, but seasonal patterns do seem to suggest that property crime will see a large bump this year. The vast majority (~80%) of UCR crimes are property crimes, and skyrocketing response times over the summer of 2015 artificially deflated crime statistics, having a disproportionate impact on property crimes.

NOPD made changes toward the end of 2015, and response times were improved in early 2016. Much of the rise in crime, therefore, will simply be a reflection of the fact that NOPD is arriving more quickly at crime scenes, and fewer of those crimes are thus being marked as ‘Unfounded’ (UNF) or ‘Gone on Arrival’ (GOA).

Reviewing likely UCR Calls for Service in 2015 and 2016 shows this to be the case so far. Nearly 30 percent of likely UCR Calls for Service were marked UNF or GOA in 2015, while only 21.4 percent have been marked that way in 2016. This effect is seen in the chart below which measures the percentage of likely UCR Calls for Service that are marked ‘Report to Follow’ (RTF) over 30 days.

Only 64 percent of these calls were marked RTF between late June and late July 2015. Alternatively, more than 1 in 3 possible UCR crimes were deemed unfounded last summer. Likely UCR Calls for Service were being reported at over 80 percent between January 6 and February 5, 2016, a huge turnaround.

The other cause of increasing UCR crime in 2016 is the improved reporting of sex crimes in New Orleans. Reports of rape and sexual battery incidents began to increase last summer, and both are been reported three times as often in 2016 as they did from 2013 to mid-2015.

The rise in sex crimes is a complicated issue but appears to represent improved reporting and trust, as opposed to an uptick in actual incidents. As such it can be seen in a non-negative light.

Reviewing which likely UCR Calls for Service are on pace as of the end of February to increase relative to 2015 suggests improved reporting on property and sex crimes will likely cause overall crime to rise in 2016. The incidents that are on pace to rise the most are: pickpocketing, auto theft, vehicle burglary, residential burglary, property snatching, rape, and sexual battery.

Conclusion

It is early in the year, but recent history suggests New Orleans is due for a large rise in official crime statistics in 2016. Ideally, this knowledge could be used to implement strategies to forestall this rise to whatever degree is possible. Barring that, it is important to acknowledge why crime is rising. Better response times and handling of sex crimes are positive trends, even if the result is higher crime statistics.