Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Oct. 23 article misuses crime statistics

2 min read

Protests around the United States after the death of George Floyd drew attention to systemic police brutality against Black people. Police supporters attempt to justify the violence. | munshots (@munshots) on Unsplash

By MATTHEW BOVA

Shawn Fleetwood published an article a few days ago about his own opinions on police “demonization.” In this article, he misuses statistics and makes leaps of logic in order to defend police officers. 

One of his first points is the argument that 76 percent of police officers now feel they are reluctant to use force when it’s necessary, and that 72 percent feel they are more reluctant to stop individuals. He then asserts that this leads to more violent crime. Fleetwood asserts, without evidence, that this poll not only portrays how police officers in America act on duty but that hesitation to use force and stop individuals directly leads to increases in violent crime. This also presumes that what a police officer’s identification of a suspicious individual does not include their inherent biases.

His use of the NY shooting statistics is particularly odious. Citing a Daily Caller article that cites NYPD crime stats, he claims that the $1 billion cut from the budget has directly resulted in a sudden rise in shootings.

Data from the New York Police Department paints a different picture. The rise in June shootings is accurate; however, it’s part of a general trend of an increase in shootings during the summer. The statistics website has a data visualization tool, and shows that a spike in shooting incidents appears every year around the same time.

Strangely, this data does not appear to be found in the Daily Caller or Fleetwood’s article. From all available data, this appears to have been part of the ordinary spike in shootings during summers in NYC. 

Furthermore, Fleetwood uses FBI crime statistics to prove that officer shootings of Black people are the result of Black people committing more crime. This ignores the issue that statistics are based on arrests rather than committed crimes. This data has long been used as a talking point for white supremacists, and I hope Fleetwood is more careful when citing it in the future.

Activists in favor of police defunding specifically seek to address crime at its root, using redirected money from the police to better serve under-priveleged neighborhoods. Fleetwood seems incapable or unwilling to address this point, as it goes unmentioned in his article.

This level of sloppy use of data is surprising for a UMW political science major, but perhaps not for a contributor for The Federalist. (For those unfamiliar, the website famously had a tag for “Black crime” articles, and published an op-ed defending Roy Moore’s pedophilia as “not without some merit.”) I would encourage my peers that are interested in journalism to make use of one of the many academic departments at our university that teaches students to analyze data. 

Before he privated his Twitter account, Fleetwood bragged about how effectively he’d frustrated the student body. These tactics are fine for The Federalist, but a school newspaper writer should hold himself to a higher standard in my opinion.

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