Michigan ranks 10th in violent crimes in the U.S., a dubious place to be considering that the state is also up there in terms of high taxes, stratospheric insurance rates and has led the league in unemployment for some time. Some might say our roads are kinda in need of a fix as well, but now we’re nitpicking.
If crime is as high as statistics indicate, it would be enlightening if we were to have some transparency in terms of crime reporting and accountability among our law enforcement agencies. There are a number of states that put crime statistics online, giving some power to residents and even encouraging them to get involved with their communities.
One site, Crime Reports, is available in 45 states and allows interested parties to view the locations of crimes in their neighborhood. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, all have agencies participating. Not Michigan.
Crime Mapping provides crime figures for certain areas in 11 states, including Ohio and Illinois. Not Michigan.
Every Block features profiles, including crimes, for a number of cities including Washington D.C., Miami and Los Angeles. But not our largest city, and today the third highest ranked city for crime in the nation, Detroit (see below).
Law enforcement transparency is not talked about as much as it should be; these are folks charged with keeping us safe and as long as we are, who wants to rock the boat. We recall a journalism instructor at Michigan State University who, as an assignment, had her students ask local law enforcement agencies for a look at their daily reports. These are open records, of course; one of the most ponderous tasks this writer had as a cops reporter in Dallas was to pore through a stack of the previous day’s police reports to make sure no local celebrity had gotten in any trouble or died.
But the students seeking the reports from the Lansing Police Department were told they had to file a Freedom of Information Request before gaining access to the reports. Such a requirement in effect thwarts the intent of access, or diminishes or halts the news value of such access, it could be argued. It would take a court hearing in front of a sympathetic judge to gain ready access, a timely and costly effort that the city has resources for – after all, it’s your time and your money – but few others do.
A strong press from a willing media would no doubt do the trick in recalcitrant cities. But we’re not sure such things exist at this point.
City Crime Rankings, 2008