I run the Republican Roundtable. The Roundtable puts on monthly forums with a panel of experts to address current issues. The July forum was on crime in Calcasieu Parish, and the panel consisted of District Attorney John DeRosier, Sheriff Tony Mancuso, and Lake Charles Chief of Police Don Dixon. It generated a good deal of interest. So I thought I would share some of the information the panel provided with readers of Lagniappe.
One issue was the accuracy of crime statistics. Wikipedia, a popular source of information on the Internet, contains an article about Lake Charles that states the city has one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation.
This information comes from two community rating websites that compile statistics to rate communities across the nation in various categories. One site gives Lake Charles an F for its economy and an A- for its weather, which right away leads me to question the accuracy of its rating scale.
These sites use FBI Uniform Crime Report data compiled by the FBI to rate the safety of communities. They do this in spite of the fact that the FBI has warned groups not to use their data in that way: “UCR data are sometimes used to compile rankings of individual jurisdictions and institutions of higher learning. These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographic entities and their residents.”
There are several reasons the UCR statistics are not valid for inter-jurisdictional comparisons. One is these data are gathered from 17,000 local law enforcement agencies and the reporting process is not standardized. Moreover, crimes may be defined differently in different jurisdictions so that they do not necessarily compare apples to apples; the willingness of citizens to report crimes to the police differs across jurisdictions, as does the way police officers respond to complaints and charge offenders.
Comparing crime data on a per-capita basis (which these websites do) can also be misleading, because residential population doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of people active in a community. Some communities “export” people and others “import” people. Calcasieu Parish, for example, lies along a major interstate highway; its industries draw workers from a wide area; it is the site of a major university; and its casinos and other attractions and facilities draw a large number of non-residents to the parish. Thus, on any given day, the number of people active in Calcasieu Parish is far greater than its estimated 200,000 residents.
While comparing crime data from different jurisdictions may be misleading, these data can be useful for statistical analyses within a jurisdiction. For example, there is a map that shows crime reported in areas in and around Lake Charles. The darker blue an area is, the less crime it has.
According to the map, the area with the most crime is east of McNeese State University between McNeese Street and Prien Lake Road; the safest areas are Moss Bluff, South Lake Charles and Cameron Parish.
With all the caveats cited earlier, the data show the crime rate in Lake Charles is above the national average in three categories: robbery, aggravated assault and burglary.
The panelists agreed that illegal drugs were the source of most crime in Lake Charles, including burglaries and thefts committed by addicts to feed their habits and violence connected to the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. Sheriff Mancuso also made the point that in a very large percentage of criminal cases in the parish, the victim and perpetrator know each other, and parish residents have very little chance of being randomly victimized by a stranger.
Crime reported in the parish has trended to go up faster than population growth by about 2 percent per year since Hurricane Rita. One reason may be that our population growth is underestimated; another is that the I-10 corridor has become a major route for drug and human trafficking and some of this crime is spilling over into our community. All three of the panelists rejected the notion that there has been increased crime due to our influx of temporary workers; most of these workers are too busy putting in long hours at the plants to be running around committing crimes.
Chief Dixon suggested that criminal behavior is largely a matter of one’s family environment, and reducing crime really starts within the family. Law enforcement is mostly about solving crimes, apprehending the criminals and getting convictions. And he is very proud of the performance of the Lake Charles police in this regard: last year, there were 1,900 crimes committed in Lake Charles. He said 92.7 percent of those crimes were solved by the police, which is double the national average of 46 percent. He attributed this high number to community involvement with law enforcement and trust in the police: people in Lake Charles, he said, are not afraid to report crimes or testify against criminals, as they are in some large cities in the U.S.
I believe most area residents would agree with me that the Wikipedia article does a great disservice to our community by representing Lake Charles as an unsafe, crime-infested city. Statistics aside, Lake Charles is a very safe community with good police/community relations.