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Editorial: Crime numbers can mislead

A reader’s question about local crime numbers led to an answer that proves the danger of relying solely on statistics.
Lenny Wolfe questioned how his quiet neighborhood of Milford Hills could run up 25 violent crimes in one year, as reported in the Salisbury Post recently. A graphic that highlighted high-crime neighborhoods ranked them like this:
1. Park Avenue, 40 violent crimes
2. Downtown, 27 violent crimes
3. Milford West, 25 violent crimes
And so on.
Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins checked on the matter and found the number was right. But nearly all the crimes it included were burglaries at storage units on Jake Alexander Boulevard — not, as some might have imagined, violent attacks on people or property in the Milford Hills neighborhood.
“I do NOT consider Milford West to be a high crime/‘violent’ area under normal circumstances,” the police chief said in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, the actions of a few doing those burglaries caused this number to be higher than it would have been otherwise.”
What about those burglaries? Salisbury Police arrested three people last year in connection with thefts from 29 units at Public Storage. Officers didn’t have to look far. One person was arrested after police spotted a motorcycle poking out of the trunk of her car. Two men who were with her jumped out of the car and fled — they already had criminal records, by the way. Eventually police arrested them, too. For felony breaking-and-entering, Ebony Mills and Christopher Murphy were sentenced to probation. The third suspect, Geoffrey Robeson, is scheduled to be in court this week.
This all goes to prove that a few people can generate a lot of trouble. Police will tell you that’s often the case. It’s also important to note that “violent crimes” can include burglaries in the city’s record-keeping lexicon.
Don’t judge a neighborhood by its numbers; look deeper. That goes for Milford Hills, the downtown, Park Avenue and the other areas highlighted in the graphic — North Main and East Innes, which each had 24 violent crimes. Each neighborhood has its own story, as today’s front-page feature on Park Avenue shows. Don’t judge them by crime stats alone.

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