One of the most contentious issues in Thursday’s Coral Gables Mayoral Candidate debate was about whether crime was up or not. Since at the end of the day this is a factual question, I thought I would try to get to the bottom of it. Here’s where I looked and what I found.
The most recent data I could find on a quick visit to the FDLE crime data web pages was for an earlier period, January – June 2012. There it shows a 6.5% increase for Coral Gables crime. If that is a six-month gain, then annualized it would be at at 13% rate as Commissioner Ralph Cabrera said in the debate and as has been claimed in anti-Cason mailers.
As an experiment I called the Coral Gables Police Department to get a copy of their crime data. I got shunted around a bit, but ended up with a public records clerk who took down my request for total crime numbers 2000-present at six month intervals (thus comparable to FDLE), and violent/non-violent breakdown. He told me it could take 2-4 weeks to respond to my request because they are very backed up. I asked if I could be treated like Press and get an answer before the election.
Eventually I ended up speaking to Officer Dean Wellinghoff, the Coral Gables Police Public Information Officer, who very quickly pointed me to a video of Acting Police Chief Scott Masington testifying to the Commission in December 2012.
I would suggest that for full context you play Item F-4, which is Cabrera’s set-up, and then H-2, which is the Chief’s testimony. The Chief’s presentation includes charts with a 5+-year comparison. According to the Chief’s testimony, and from what I was able to see from the fuzzy images of his charts, violent crime is quite low and generally stable, and usually involve parties known to each other. Robberies (which are distinct from burglaries) are declining. Assaults are more or less stable. Residential burglaries were up, but started to decline in June and were way down in the later months of last year; commercial burglaries are down. Larceny (simple thefts, including shoplifting), is maybe up a tiny bit. Vehicle burglaries (stealing from cars) are also up – although the Chief says the cops caught the guys behind at least 20 of the car burglaries in November. Auto theft is up. Vandalism is down.
I am not completely sure what to make of this. The bottom line total number is stability, or maybe a tiny decline. In a literal sense, though, both Cason and Cabrera are telling the truth: crime was up 6.5% in the most recent period covered by the FDLE data, which if you annualize becomes 13%. On the other hand, if you add in five more months of data, as the chief does in his December testimony, the total picture looks a lot less bad. The uptick in vehicle burglary and auto theft is largely counterbalanced by lower levels of other crimes. Given he’s using the more recent data, though, it would seem Cason has the better of the factual argument assuming the two data sets are comparable.
One other thing that comes out clearly from the H-2 video is that the Commission, at least by the end of a long hearing day, really is factionalized and is sort of dysfunctional. Plus, the City Manager really is out of line making political statements from the dias designed to undercut Commissioners. No wonder they don’t like him. And it’s likely mutual.