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Article calling Oklahoma City 'gang infested' lacks context

by Jonathan Sutton Modified: August 5, 2014 at 3:15 pm •  Published: August 5, 2014
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A recent post on the click-bait site The Richest mentioned Oklahoma City in a list of “the most gang-infested cities in America.”

The article has been circulated quite a bit (more than a half a million views), and at first glance, the assertion seemed unlikely to me.

The paragraph explaining why Oklahoma City is considered “gang infested” could  be copied and pasted to describe any city with a gang problem and read true. There are no statistics given to support the claim and simply says you don’t want to be in “the wrong part of town.”

When it comes to violence, I’m not particularly apt to believe OKC is comparable to Chicago, which recently saw 82 people shot, 14 fatally, over one weekend. There were 35 homicides in Oklahoma city in all of 2014 as of early August.

A quick Google search showed New Orleans, Oakland and Baltimore all have more than double the murder rates per capita of OKC, according to FBI crime statistics. Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis and Philadelphia all have higher murder and violent crime rates per capita than OKC.

None of these cities were mentioned in the article.

The website claims to have based these rankings on FBI crime statistics. Those same statistics have been used to rank OKC as both the 50th most dangerous city in the country and 83rd safest. Makes sense.

Are there gangs in Oklahoma City? Yes.

Is there gang-related crime and violence? Of course.

But lists like this one do not tell the whole, or even most, of the story. And even one-dimensional statistics like the ones I listed above cannot paint a full picture of what crime is like in a particular city.

The FBI warns bloggers and journalists to not rely on these crime statistics to make lists of most dangerous cities, safest places to live, etc.

“These rankings…are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.”

The FBI warns that these statistics can be misleading because they are based on the numbers reported by municipal departments. For example,  one police department might respond to more crimes because they have a more officers and can handle more cases. That doesn’t mean that particular city is less safe; it could be the exact opposite.

In the fast-paced new world of online journalism where more clicks means more money, perspective is often sacrificed in the pursuit of an eye-catching headline.  Unfortunately, readers often get the short end of the stick.

But the great thing about the internet is that most of the information these lists are based on is available to you for free. So, check it out if something seems out of place or unbelievable. You might be right.

by Jonathan Sutton
Breaking News Reporter
Jonathan Sutton is a reporter covering breaking news and crime for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. He grew up in Ada and has a degree in journalism from Oklahoma State University. He was the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily O'Collegian, OSU's student...
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