Commentary: Council opponents are distorting crime rate

As Mark Twain said, "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."

The following is from a Daily Pilot article dated April 15, 2001. At the time, Costa Mesa's then-Police Chief Dave Snowden was responding to community criticism on increasing crime.

"Over the past several months, I have listened with dismay to the comments of a few of our local residents claiming that our city has a very high crime rate," he wrote. "One can only wonder why these people would want to create such a bad and false image here, or why no one has asked the Police Department for any facts to support or refute their claims.

"It is, however, time to set the record straight on the matter of high crime in Costa Mesa, as it is both unfair and harmful to allow their misrepresentation of our image to continue."

Of course we have crime in Costa Mesa. Crime exists wherever there are people. However, the image of Costa Mesa as an unsafe, high-crime city is not deserved.

Since it is important for people to understand what role crime statistics play in determining how safe a city is, let me point out a few things: First, it is wrong, in my opinion, to compare crime rates between cities.

Although the media has been doing so for years, and we have fared well in these comparisons, attempts at determining the relative safety of cities in this manner is unfair and misleading.

Reporting policies vary among cities, as do the attitudes of residents toward reporting crime. For example, crimes may often go unreported and thus never end up becoming a statistic. Remember, only reported crime makes the record books. If crime is not reported accurately, it becomes difficult to assess crime trends.

Costa Mesa takes all crime reports seriously, whether they involve a home or business. The city reports crime accurately and uses the data in its analysis unit to map trends to prevent and solve crime.

It is also a mistake to consider everything on a percentage basis. As an example, let us assume for a moment that during 1999, there were no incidents of graffiti in our city. In 2000, assume we have one reported incident — a small scribble on a mailbox.

Now, this incident would not usually keep any of us awake at night. But rather than "one," we'll put this "crime wave" in terms of percentages and put it on the front page as "Costa Mesa experiences a 100% increase in graffiti."

This could tend to alarm those not aware of the actual number. Unfortunately, this scenario happens all too often and tends to create a false perception of crime in our community.

Costa Mesa is a fine city. It is a beautiful place to live, work, shop and play. Tourists find it a great destination. And it is a safe city. The men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department are dedicated to making it stay that way. Isn't it only fair that Costa Mesa's image be accurate?

Recent letters to the Pilot by individuals opposed to our mayor apparently disagree with our former chief's warning about comparing our crime rates to neighboring cities or reporting crime as a statistical rise. It makes one wonder about the motives of those who want to create a bad image for our city.

As a note, if you compare the FBI data Dave Snowden refers to in this article, Costa Mesa has become much safer. For the most recent reporting year crime is down 8.8% compared with the reporting year 1999.

Costa Mesa is a safe city and the Costa Mesa brand is increasingly strong under the current council majority. Chief Snowden had it right over a decade ago.

JAMES R. FISLER, a 42-year Costa Mesa resident, is president of the Mesa Water District.

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