A Surge in Gang Murders: Fact Check

A Surge in Gang Murders: Fact Check

File photo by Sam Hodgson

Police Chief Bill Lansdowne

 

Image: mostly trueStatement: “There’s a 130 percent increase in the number of gang homicides in the city of San Diego just in the first six months of this year,” San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said during an interview with KPBS July 31.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: As police push for more funding, Lansdowne and other officials have tried to bolster their case with some alarming statistics about violent crime in San Diego.

Violent crime is a category that law enforcement authorities use to track the total number of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. Last year, San Diego police reported about 5,100 of these crimes alone.

But during in a recent interview with KPBS, Lansdowne drilled deeper into the violent crime statistics and specifically described a rise in gang-related murders.

“There’s a 130 percent increase in the number of gang homicides in the city of San Diego just in the first six months of this year,” Lansdowne said. “And those are disturbing numbers for us to deal with.”

We decided to Fact Check whether the Police Department’s own numbers support the 130 percent jump. Lansdowne cited the spike to support the need for additional funding and it certainly sounded like a troubling trend.

Just to be clear, the purpose of this Fact Check is not to determine whether the murders were actually gang-related or whether the deaths were even murders. Our narrow focus is figuring out whether Lansdowne accurately described the number of deaths that his officers believed were gang-related murders at the time of the KPBS interview. It’s possible the number could change depending on the results of ongoing investigations.

To help understand Lansdowne’s claim and additional context, I’ve illustrated the number of gang-related murders and all murders since 2007 in the graphic below. This information comes from the Police Department’s homicide unit and crime reports posted online by Sandag.

Lansdowne’s specific comparison was accurate. Police reported 14 gang-related murders during the first half of this year and six during the same period last year. The difference between those numbers is 133 percent — close to the figure Lansdowne cited.

The graphic also shows why the spike in murders this year is unusual. Police reported more between January and June than the same period in each of the past five years. The six-month total this year exceeds the annual total in each of the past three years, too.

I asked police last week why gang-related crime appears to be climbing, but police said an authority on the subject wasn’t immediately available to comment. If I hear back, I’ll update this post or write a new story about the Police Department’s response.

In the meantime, we’ve rated Lansdowne’s statement Mostly True. His statistic was accurate, but there is a key nuance to consider about how it was calculated. The percentage represented the difference between two relatively low numbers.

The scale of the numbers is important because using percentages to measure the difference between two low numbers can lead to a skewed impression. Let’s say police reported three traffic accidents on a street this month and just one the month before. That’s technically a 200 percent increase.

Earlier this year, Lansdowne himself cautioned against using percentages to measure the difference between two low numbers. Discussing crime trends with a City Council committee, Lansdowne said:

Percentages sometimes don’t tell the full story … Our numbers are so low for crime in the city of San Diego that just a few numbers either way — five or six crimes in a city of 1.4 million or in a community that has 180,000 people — are important to us, but it’s not a crime wave that’s taking place. Those are the normal fluctuations that take place in a city.

In the case of gang-related murders, the number of crimes didn’t change by five or six. It increased by eight.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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12 comments
Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Crime is way down since a peak in 2006, 30 less murders last year than in 2006. Do we say the police cuts are the reason crime went down?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Crime is way down since a peak in 2006, 30 less murders last year than in 2006. Do we say the police cuts are the reason crime went down?

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

If I were Chief Lansdowne, I'd be concerned too.

toulon
toulon

If I were Chief Lansdowne, I'd be concerned too.

Craig Nelson
Craig Nelson subscribermember

Also true, self proclaimed press conferences called by Chief Landsdowne to gin up support for more police $ and scary crime statistics -- up 800% in the first 6 mos' of this year!

Craig Nelson
Craig Nelson

Also true, self proclaimed press conferences called by Chief Landsdowne to gin up support for more police $ and scary crime statistics -- up 800% in the first 6 mos' of this year!

cobracat
cobracat

You can "nuance" it all you want, but gang-related murders ARE up 130% from the first six months of last year. Lansdowne wasn't "mostly true," he was "completely true." In fact, if the figures are up 133%, he understated the increase. Simply present the numbers and let the public determine how serious the increase is; but Lansdowne's statement was accurate.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

You can "nuance" it all you want, but gang-related murders ARE up 130% from the first six months of last year. Lansdowne wasn't "mostly true," he was "completely true." In fact, if the figures are up 133%, he understated the increase. Simply present the numbers and let the public determine how serious the increase is; but Lansdowne's statement was accurate.

joe vargo
joe vargo subscriber

Never trust someone who won't level with you. Completely true.

joev
joev

Never trust someone who won't level with you. Completely true.

Lucas OConnor
Lucas OConnor subscriber

So has Voice of San Diego officially changed the definition of "Mostly True" to "Completely True, but who cares" or is it an informal thing?

lucasoconnor
lucasoconnor

So has Voice of San Diego officially changed the definition of "Mostly True" to "Completely True, but who cares" or is it an informal thing?