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Just in time for the Christmas holidays, people who give their time and money to help the Atlanta Police Department received good news in the mail.
A flier from the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation arrived with this impressive headline: "Crime in Atlanta is down 18 percent since 2009."
That is something to feel good about. But is it true?
PolitiFact Georgia decided to look deeper into the foundation’s claim, especially given that, at several times during the year, residents have been rattled by -- and outspoken about -- high-profile neighborhood crimes.
To make the claim of an 18 percent drop in crime, the foundation compared crime data in the first 45 weeks of 2009 against data for the same 45 weeks in 2013.
The foundation focused on what are known as Part 1, or major, crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto thefts.
The foundation pulled straight from records of the Atlanta Police Department, which show:
2009 2013 % difference
Murders 72 70 -3
Rapes 95 93 -2
Robberies 2209 2020 -9
Aggravated assaults 2302 1970 -14
Burglaries 7654 5010 -35
Larcenies from auto 9447 7988 -15
Other larcenies 7191 6902 -4
Auto thefts 4898 3867 -21
All Part 1 offenses 33,868 27,920 -18
The 18 percent decline was calculated by taking the Part 1 offenses for 2009, subtract the Part 1 offenses from 2013, then divide the difference by the Part 1 Offenses in 2009.
Step 1) 33,868 - 27,920 = 5,948
Step 2) 5,948/ 33,868 = 0.1756 (rounded to .18 or 18%)
Robert R. Friedmann, a professor emeritus of criminal justice and director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, said the calculations are "legitimate."
This is "one of several ways to calculate what’s happening with crime," he said.
"It relies on raw figures, Friedmann said. "If you actually calculate rates, then the decline will be higher than 18 percent since the population has increased."
The claim by the foundation, which raised and spent more than $2 million in 2012 to support police department initiatives, was "fair for the purpose it was done for," he said.
"I read PolitiFact, and I would rate it as a True," Friedmann said. "I wouldn’t have an issue with it."
Jack Levin, the director of the Brudnick Center on Conflict and Violence at Northeastern University, said the Atlanta Police Foundation could have provided its supporters a "clearer picture" of crime in the city had it shown the crime trends from 2009 to 2013, rather than a 45-week-to-45-week comparison.
"But using a baseline of 2009, it doesn’t look like they were trying to put one over on the public," Levin said.
Homicide rates were the lowest in decades in 2009, so someone wanting to make the city look better would likely have chosen another year to compare with 2013, he said.
Had the foundation chosen to compare the 45 weeks of 2013 with the same weeks in 2010, 2011 or 2012, crime also would have been down, but not as much as compared with 2009.
The Christmastime flier was sent to supporters "as a reminder of the impact that their donations have had funding critical programs spearheaded by the APF," said Miguel Sepulveda, the foundation’s vice president for communications and director of Crime Stoppers of Greater Atlanta.
Earlier this year, the foundation sent supporters a postcard, directing them to a more detailed crime report, Sepulveda said.
The recent flier didn’t give the reader any specifics to support the foundation’s claim. "Perhaps, we should do that," Sepulveda said in an email exchange.
"We used the first 45 weeks because those were the most current stats available for 2013 at the time the [flier] went to print," he said.
Mayor Kasim Reed made crime fighting a topic of his second inaugural address this week. He rated the Police Department’s expansion to 2,000 workers as a first-term milestone and promised to "double-down" efforts to address crime in his second term.
Crime has brought the city some unflattering headlines. For instance, Forbes magazine ranked Atlanta as the ninth "most dangerous city" in the nation for 2013, down from sixth in 2012. The magazine creates the annual list by using the FBI's Crime Statistics database screened for cities with populations of 200,000 and higher. Experts generally downplay these rankings, and the FBI specifically warns against using its statistics for city-against-city rankings.
But there’s no evidence that the foundation’s flier claim was anything but accurate based on the available data.
We rate the statement True.
Emails from Miguel Sepulveda, vice president of communications, Atlanta Police Foundation, beginning Dec. 17
Phone interviews with and emails from Robert R. Friedmann, professor emeritus of criminal justice, director, Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, starting Dec. 18
Atlanta Police Department website: www.atlantapd.org
Phone interviews with Jack Levin, director, Brudnick Center on Conflict and Violence, Northeastern University, starting Dec. 18
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