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Two in Two

Is Memphis the nation's second-most violent city? Local crime experts agree that the data is skewed.

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Last September, University of Memphis football player Taylor Bradford was shot and killed on campus by a group of men trying to rob him.

There were hundreds of other violent crimes last year that received less media attention. So many, in fact, that the FBI ranked Memphis the second-most violent city in the nation for a second year in a row, according to the bureau's annual violent crime report. Memphis also topped a separate FBI list last week for cities with high property crime rates.

According to the reports, Memphis had 1,950 violent crimes per 100,000 people and 8,059 property crimes per 100,000 people in 2007. Memphis came in just under Detroit in the violent crime ranking, with Nashville ranking fourth.

But Tom Kirby of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission says the numbers are skewed, because reporting systems vary from city to city.

"When you're ranking different cities, you can't have a true apples-to-apples comparison," Kirby said.

Memphis police director Larry Godwin doesn't take much stock in the lists, either. He says the Memphis Police Department reports all crimes, while other cities pick and choose which crimes to report.

"We use incident-based reporting, and many other cities use summary-based reporting," Godwin said. "If I carjack you, kidnap you, and sexually assault you, most cities would classify only the sexual assault. They report the most serious crime, but we have to report all three."

For instance, earlier this year, Memphis police were required to count all six murders and the three attempted murders in the Lester Street massacre. But a city with summary-based reporting could have reported the massacre as one incident.

Incident-based reporting is required across the state, which also may reflect Nashville's high ranking on the FBI violent crime list.

Data from the police department show local crime decreasing 5.2 percent from 2006 to 2007. Godwin, who says this year's numbers, to date, are slightly lower than last year's, estimates Memphis had 4,000 fewer victims of violent crime last year as compared with 2006.

As for the property crime report, Godwin says Memphis police report all thefts, no matter how small. Some cities only report thefts of $500 or more.

"In New York, if an auto theft is below $1,000, they take a memo," Godwin says. "We take a report if they knock your window out and take a pair of sunglasses."

However, Mike Heidingsfield, director of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, says there are adjustment formulas to account for differences in reporting when ranking cities by crime rate.

"[Incident-based reporting] shouldn't really create a stark difference between Memphis and other cities," Heidingsfield says.

Nationwide, crime went down 1.4 percent, so that could also have an impact on Memphis remaining in the number-two position for the second year in a row. But regardless of where the city stands on crime, Kirby says Memphians shouldn't worry too much about their safety.

"There are a lot of lifestyle contributors to factor in. For example, crime often centers around drug dealers or gang members," Kirby says. "I've lived in Memphis most of my life, and I've never been a victim of violent crime. You just have to be careful of your surroundings."

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