Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How accurately are criminal statistics reported in our schools?

It’s not that I don’t trust numbers. Gosh, we couldn’t live without them.
I mean, how would we know what time it is, or how far it is to Erie, Pa., or what Ted Williams batted in 1941 if it were not for numbers?
We couldn’t even place 1941 in time if it weren’t for numbers.
No, it’s just that I have what borders on an aversion to, perhaps even a fear of, statistics. And statistics are nothing but numbers.
Some statistics are varnished and some are unvarnished, but at bottom they are all numbers.
Notice I did not use the word “dread.” I do not dread statistics. I am merely unsettled by them. And who wants to be unsettled when it is more comfortable to settled.
Remember, when the Connecticut Western Reserve, where we live, was settled, the newcomers were not unsettled. Far from it.
I am not sure what all that has to do with what I am about to tell you, but then, I am not quite sure what it is that I was about to tell you anyway.
Oh yes, it was about statistics. Or, if I may use the term, “crime statistics.” Or even if the incidents I was about to relate are actually crimes.
It boils down to this. Last Monday morning, I was sitting in the Wayne Rodehorst Auditorium at Lakeland Community College.
The occasion was the president’s annual State of the Campus address, and the president, Dr. Morris Beverage Jr., was on stage presenting his views of the campus in regard to student success, academic progress and other matters of more than passing interest.
He had armed himself with a couple of highly regarded Lake County citizens – Kim Fraser, head of the ADAHMS Board (having to do with drugs and alcohol) and Jack Thompson, superintendent of Perry Schools.
They are both high quality people. Morris wouldn’t surround himself with anything less. But it was some of the statistics Thompson projected on the screen that brought me up short.
And believe me, when I am brought up short, it is hard for me to catch my breath.
Since we were in a large auditorium, and I was without benefit of pencil or paper, I cannot report with any degree of accuracy exactly what the statistics were that he reported.
But this observation is indelible in my mind: Perry Schools rank very high in the county, as well as in the state, in categories that I will call (my term) “anti-social behavior.”
Put another way, there is more unruly behavior than I could ever have imagined on the campuses of the Perry Schools.
I speak of fist fights, bullying and other sorts of conduct that one would not expect to find in Perry.
But I have a theory, which I formulated sitting in the darkened auditorium. Morris asked for questions at the end, but I did not volunteer because I did not want to appear to be a show-off, or even spend a lengthy amount of time framing my question.
But here is the essence of it: I think the Perry social-behavior statistics are skewered simply because Perry does a better job of reporting them than do other school systems.
Let me illustrate with an example with which I am familiar. Every year Cleveland Magazine publishes a “Rating the Suburbs” edition.
Every suburb wants to have a very low rating among the crime statistics. I mean, who wants to be first in murders, armed robberies, burglaries and the like?
So a lot of places simply do not tell the whole story when the magazine calls.
It is easy to do. And the magazine does not know the difference.
Thus the “safest” suburbs may be the ones that soft-pedal the crime numbers.
And what does that have to do with the Perry Schools?
Well, I have no way of knowing if this is true, but isn’t it possible that Perry does a superior job of reporting fist-fights, bullying and all that?
There are a lot of school districts in Ohio. I remember when there were 616, but some may have consolidated by now.
But isn’t it possible that some of them are less, shall we say, conscientious than Perry in reporting unruly behavior to the pollsters?
Of course, this is only a theory and I could be wrong. If I am, I hope Jack Thompson calls and demands an apology, which I will certainly accommodate.
But isn’t that why Perry has a nuclear power plant, so it  has enough tax money that it can have a first-class school district without the distractions of bullying and fist fights?

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