New York Times attempts to cite statistics: It’s surprising how often this happens.
This morning, a headline said this in our New York Times: “Gang-Related Shootings Decline in Chicago.”
That sounded good to us. But uh-oh!
When we sought the specific information, we were confronted by this:
YACCINO (3/20/14): Gang-related shootings here [in Chicago] are steadily declining, officials said on Wednesday, citing violence-reduction efforts that prevent gang retaliation and that are prompting the interest of other cities.Do you see the problem there? According to those police statistics, the percentage of shootings which is gang-related has dropped so far this year.
Since the beginning of the year, less than half of the 188 shootings in Chicago were related to gang activity, Police Department numbers show. That represents a sharp drop from previous years, when gangs were responsible for 61 percent of shootings in 2013 and 65 percent in 2012 for the same period of time.
Has there actually been a smaller number of gang-related shootings? So far, that wasn’t clear.
Nor did we ever find out! As reporter Steve Yaccino continued, he suddenly switched from “shootings” to “killings.”
Yaccino said overall killings are down. But he didn’t seem to have any figures for gang-related killings:
YACCINO: “The fact is, as soon as we implemented this strategy, that’s when we saw the numbers start turning in the right direction,” Garry F. McCarthy, the superintendent of the Chicago police, said at a news conference.So far this year, overall killings are down. That said, the big drop seemed to come between 2012 and 2013.
Violence between the roughly 600 gang factions in Chicago, the third-largest city in the nation, has long been seen here as driving homicide totals, which have received national attention since more than 500 killings were recorded in 2012. Last year, the city witnessed a 17 percent drop in citywide homicides, but the total was still higher than the death tolls in New York and Los Angeles, which also reported decreases last year.
In 2014, the Chicago police say overall killings were down between January and mid-March compared with the same period last year—to 52 from 63. There were 92 homicides in Chicago by this time in 2012.
With that, another question arises. When did the Chicago police “implement this strategy,” the strategy which is supposed to be working?
Yaccino didn’t report that either.
The headline said there have been fewer gang-related shootings. That certainly may be the case, but Yaccino never stated the number of gang-related shootings in the relevant years. Nor did he say when the ballyhooed strategy started.
On balance, it sounds like things have been getting better in Chicago. Then too, we have this final problem:
YACCINO (continuing directly): Mr. McCarthy declined to give Chicago’s 23 days of subzero temperatures credit for the drop in shootings. “It hasn’t been winter for the last year and a half,” he said. “There has been a very steady progression in the reduction of shootings.”Whatever!
Chicago is the city where Hadiyah Pendleton was shot and killed in January 2013, apparently by a gang-related person who fired his gun at the wrong group. Two arrests have been made, not that you’d ever know it.
Everyone should be rooting for Chicago to continue getting better—and for the Times to learn how to work with statistics in a way which supports the claims it makes in its headlines.
After that, we have a dream. Our big newspapers, including the Times, can figure out how to read NAEP scores!