Saturday, January 11, 2014

Medical magic to cut murders?

Awhile back I wrote about the murder rate gap between BC and Washington State and listed a few theories to explain it: An aging crime-prone demographic; handgun availability.

There was one theory I missed or, rather, ignored.

The Wall Street Journal, however, didn't: "In medical triumph, homicides fall despite soaring gun violence". Murder is down, says WSJ, due to a buffet of medical morsels; better medicine, quicker paramedic responses, the spread of trauma centers.

WSJ spares no marvel in the new buffet: doctoring skills brought back from the Afghan and Iraq wars; helicopters to ferry patients to emergency wards.

A week ago CBC Ottawa joined the chorus.

Apparently, says CBC Ottawa, murders are declining even though gun violence is up. For proof just look at jumps in attempted murder rates (I did). Those are the victims saved in the emergency wards by better medicine!

As Star Trek engineer Mr. Scott says in another fantasy show, "It's a fine bit of reasoning, indeed!"

Except it's wrong. The numbers don't add up to support the medical theory.

Statistics Canada rates for murder and attempted murder follow similar paths. The theory suggests they shouldn't. Look at the patterns.

Source: Statistics Canada
There might be something valid in 1975 when the rates crossed paths (but not accounted for in this theory about "recent" medical improvements). Afterwards, as one dips so does the other.

If the medical theory was right the gap between murder and attempts should widen. It doesn't. In fact the gap actually narrows since the late 1990s. Is medicine cutting those murders but having no impact on attempts? Only if police are not recording attempted murder victims, perhaps hiding them somewhere else in the stats? That's unlikely and the data do not support it.

I crunched the Ottawa crime stats to look a bit closer. Again, the data tell another story. Check out the chart.

Ottawa murder and attempts decline together
As murder drops so do attempts. Murders ebb but attempts don't flow as the theory predicts. There is something very rotten in the medical buffet. As the UNC School of Government blog concludes; "Medical progress, probably. Medical triumph, I doubt."

Medicine has improved. Better doctors and technology is incredible. That's good news. As well, we have methods to cut crime; SafeGrowth, CPTED, Ceasefire, problem-oriented policing, neighborhood reinvestment. That's good news too. But confusing matters with unproven theories is neither scientific nor helpful.

When will reporters and their editors start chasing facts and stop chasing slick headlines?  No wonder the public is so ill-informed about policing, crime and its prevention.

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