MARK Twain famously said that there are three kinds of untruths: lies, damned lies, and statistics. The report by CQ Press that placed Toledo in the top 50 most dangerous cities in the United States falls into the last category.
Using last year's FBI crime statistics, the report compared the per capita crime rates of 378 U.S. cities, determining that the Glass City, at 47th, was just a bit safer than Houston, Indianapolis, and Macon, Ga., but slightly more dangerous than Columbus, Tulsa, and Charlotte.
"Aha," some will say, "this just confirms what people relocating in the suburbs already know. Toledo's just too dangerous." But the rankings -whether for Toledo, Ohio, Yakima, Wash., West Palm Beach, Fla., or any of the other cities on the list - are virtually meaningless.
Rob Casey, who heads the FBI section that puts out the annual Uniform Crime Report that CQ Press used in completing its "analysis," said, "you're not comparing apples and oranges; you're comparing watermelons and grapes."
And the FBI Web site cautions against using the Uniform Crime Report for simple comparative purposes, such as CQ Press' per-capita approach.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter said there is no fair or meaningful way to determine that one community is "safer" than another.
A resolution issued by the executive board of the American Society of Criminology called the rankings "invalid, damaging, and irresponsible." It went on to say the rankings "fail to account for the many conditions affecting crime rates, the mismeasurement of crime, large community differences in crime within cities, and the factors affecting individuals' crime risk."
Rochester, N.Y., Mayor Robert Duffy, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors criminal and social justice committee, said the safety rankings "would be laughable were it not for the genuine damage they inflict "
What all these experts are saying is that it's impossible to divide the number of people by the number of crimes and end up with a reliable guide to whether this city or that is a safer place to live.
Moreover, they're saying that organizations like CQ Press do everyone a disservice by suggesting that such a simplistic analysis is valid.
Is Toledo safe enough for parents to allow their 12-year-olds to wander the city at all hours? Of course not; no city, town, or village is that safe. Are there parts of Toledo that are more dangerous than others? Certainly but, again, that's true everywhere.
Toledoans can attend the theater, opera, or ballet; go out to listen to jazz, rock, or folk music; visit the museum; take part in festivals and celebrations; take in a Mud Hens game, or partake in the finest and most diverse dining experiences in the region.
And they can do so without fearing for their safety, regardless of what someone's statistics might indicate.