The FBI’s 2009 official Crime Report Comparison has just been released the 24th of this month. This data is important because it is the official report of Crime Statistics in the United States. For this comparison I have chosen 2 similarly sized (medium) cities separated largely by geographically and environmental as well as social and cultural influences. Anchorage, Alaska is the State’s biggest city with 40% of the vast State’s total population. Flanked by gorgeous sub-Arctic scenery, it is one of the most picturesque cities in the US although temperatures can hit -37 degrees.
It has a small, new-town feel with a predominantly white population of 279,000. Aside from mining, tourism and resource extraction, one of the biggest income generators is Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the 3rd busiest airport in the world due to its location between Asia and North America. The second city for the comparison is Birmingham, Alabama with a population of roughly 227,000 is the county seat of Jefferson County and was founded in 1871 just after the Civil War and has that Old-South feel.
Birmingham is a large industrial city due to the cities railroad and highway crossroads. Thus, it is a city that many in Alabama had often gone to in search for factory and industrial work. In the 50’s and 60’s it became an important center for the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. (as immortalized in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’). The climate is humid subtropical being that the city is set in a valley immediately flanked by the parallel tailing ends of the Appalachian Mountain Range.
The main economy of the city today is derived from the steel industry, research (biotech & medical), banking & insurance, and bottling. The racial makeup of the city is predominantly African American (over 70 %). I have chosen to look at the crime/offense of murder. The 2009 data for Anchorage shows that 14 murders have occurred within that year in the city, a rise of 4 from 2008’s 10 murders. In the case of Birmingham, 65 cases of murder were listed in 2009, a significant drop from 2008’s 82. Certainly, especially in the case of Birmingham, the significant drop is welcome.
But compared to the numbers of the same crime in Anchorage, the number of murders committed in Birmingham since 2008 make the murder cases in Anchorage seem significantly less. But rate wise, one can say that murders have increased in Anchorage by at least 40% with the increase of 14 from 10 and murders have decreased in Birmingham by 21% going from 82 to 65. It still however does appear by the numbers that murder as a crime is a huge challenge for the local Birmingham law enforcement as it is not difficult to imagine law enforcement becoming stretched with the pressure of solving these cases that occur at a rate of 6. murders per month. In fact, the rate of slayings in the city ranks Birmingham as the 5th in the country for murders in cities with populations over 100,000. Those other cities are comprised of New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Jackson, Mississippi.
Birmingham’s Police Chief AC Ropper accepts that while there has been some progress, there is still a huge challenge before them. On the other hand, Anchorage is ranked low on the ‘murder scale’ with it being among the over 100,000 population cities with the least number of annual slayings. The increase (4 slayings) for 2009 however worried residents. The explanation is that due to the high cost of living in the city (Birmingham has among the lowest), a negative job-rate growth (despite the city enjoying a low 7% unemployment rate compared to the US average) due to the recession property and violent crimes (caused by social stigma and property/stature loss driven by the effects of the recession) leading to the homicide/murder rate increasing.
As for the case of the significant decrease in numbers for Birmingham, faster response is further enhanced by the presence of CCTVs all over the city as well as a systemized and digitized information workflow. This affected closure rates and information is shared quicker within the department. Additionally, the challenge of the downturn has resulted in stimulus packages that increased local programs aimed at curbing property theft, prostitution and illegal drug trade. It also helped in putting together salary packages for new police recruits to assist in the law enforcement effort in the city. Both Anchorage and Birmingham however hope that the numbers will go down further by the end of 2010.