Why I Don’t Trust Crime Statistics

I live in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which is policed by the 73rd Precinct of the NYPD. According to statistics posted to Pediacities NYC, there were two hundred ninety burglaries, six hundred and sixty-six felony assaults, four hundred and forty-three grand larcenies, one hundred and twenty-eight car thefts, fourteen murders, thirty-nine rapes, and four hundred and sixty one robberies reported in the precinct in the year 2013.

Believe it or not, these numbers give me no real indication of how safe or unsafe the neighborhood falling under the 73rd’s jurisdiction really is.

Here’s the thing about rape, murder, and felony assaults. They are almost always committed by people who know their victims. This is especially true in the case of rape. Were the thirty-nine women who were sexually assaulted three years ago, attacked by the archetypical knife-wielding rapist who lurked in the bushes or were they attacked by dates, casual acquaintances, family members, or even intimate partners during episodes of domestic violence? The official statistics don’t tell us that. That being said, I (and no other woman) can determine how safe it is to walk down the street unaccompanied at three o’clock in the morning just by looking at the numbers.

That’s the bad news. The good news: after having lived in this rather rough and disreputable part of town for the last four years, I have a good feel for this place.

I’ve learned to avoid the people living in the “nuisance house” next door. I only walk on the well lit parts of the sidewalks between my house and the subway stop, often crossing the street multiple times during the four block walk. Although I kept my earbuds in (to discourage unwanted conversation), I never play my music when I’m walking. In short, a combination of instinct, common sense, observation, and neighborhood grapevine rumors have done more to clue me into the dangers of my environment than any statistics the cops compile.

Until the NYPD draws a distinction between stranger rapes and acquaintance/intimate partner rape in their compilation of statistics, I will continue to rely on my gut (and a can of pepper spray) to keep myself safe.