Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

Despite an ailing economy, crime in the United States dropped between 2008 and 2009, according to preliminary figures released today by the FBI. Violent crime fell 5.5 percent and property crime decreased 4.9 percent. Murders declined by 7.2 percent and robbery dropped by 8.1 percent. This was the third year in a row that violent crime fell nationally, and the fourth year in a row that property crime declined.

This new report contains raw stats for cities over 100,000 population. Sacramento exceeded the national trend, showing a 10.6 percent decrease in violent crime and 6.6 percent drop in property crime. In Elk Grove, violent crime went down 7.9 percent; property crime 4.1 percent. In Roseville, violent crime went down 0.6 percent; property crime 5.6 percent. (The number of crimes in these two cities are relatively small, so percent changes have to taken with a grain of salt.)

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released demographic data on people executed in 2008 or who were under sentence of death as of Dec. 31, 2008. The report tracks various characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, education, criminal history and marriage status. Tables also show the number and method of execution, state-by-state.

Some highlights: 37 individuals were executed in 2008 (20 white and 17 black -- all men). There were 18 in Texas; four in Virginia; three each in Georgia and South Carolina; two each in Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma; one in Kentucky (none in California). At the end of 2008, there were 3,207 persons under the death sentence (1,798 white and 1,338 black; 13.2 percent were Hispanic). In California there were 669 under the death sentence (397 white and 243 black). Of these 15 were women and 151 were Hispanic.

A data-rich web site called posted a new list of the safest colleges and universities in the United States. The ranking is based on 2008 crimes reported by campus officials. analyzed property and violent crime stats for 450 schools and assigned to each campus an overall safety ranking. There doesn't seem to be a connection between safety and academic prestige. Many of the safest institutions are community colleges. Number one is Arkansas State University in Beebe.

The two local universities are included in the safety study. (Area community colleges didn't report enough crime data to be ranked.) CSU Sacramento comes in with a rank of 63 with a overall safety score of 95.9 out of 100. UC Davis ranks 434 with a score of 72.6.

arson.jpgToday the Bee reported the third arson in a week, this time at a restaurant on Northgate Blvd. That seems like a lot of fire-starting in a short period, but arson is more common a crime than one might expect. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, 210 arsons were reported by the Sacramento Police Department in 2008. That same year, 195 such crimes were reported by the Sacramento Sheriff's Department. You can also get a sense of where arsons occur in the region but using the Bee's CrimeMapper database. With it you can plot specific reported crimes within a radius of a specific address. (This data is supplied by local police and sheriffs agencies.) There were 1,021 arsons within 30 miles of the State Capitol reported from Jan. 2006 through July 2009.

The news of kidnapping victim Jaycee Lee Dugard's resurfacing after 18 years has certainly renewed interest in non-family child abductions. The Bee's Phillip Reese posted an interactive map showing the rate of stranger kidnappings for every California county during the period 1999-2008.

For a broader analysis of such crimes, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published a 2003 national report that is dated, but still useful. During the period 1997-99, the OJJDP studied 115 stereotypical kidnappings, i.e. "abductions perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance and involving a child who was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed." In 40 percent of these cases the victim was murdered. In another 4 percent, the child was never recovered.


For the same period, there were an estimated 58,200 child victims of nonfamily abduction, "defined more broadly to include all nonfamily perpetrators (friends and acquaintances as well as strangers) and crimes involving lesser amounts of forced movement or detention in addition to the more serious crimes entailed in stereotypical kidnappings". In 57 percent of these crimes, the child was missing for at least and hour. And 21 percent of the time police were contacted to help find the abducted children.

In both types of abductions, nearly half of the victims were sexually assaulted by perpetrators.

Last night the California Assembly adjourned without passing a Senate-approved plan to reduce the prison population by 27,300 inmates in the next 10 months and to create a commission to overhaul the state's sentencing laws.

The current number of state prisoners is 167,700. For a long-term look at the growth of the prison system, take a look at the Correction Department's annual Historical Trends report which aggregates data on adult institutions. Each report contains statistics on the total state prison population for a 20-year period, breaking down the numbers by such factors as race/ethnicity, gender and offense category (drugs, property, crimes against persons). The latest publication covers 1987-2007 and the oldest report available online is from 1976-1996. The total adult correctional population grew from 21,088 in 1976 to 171,444 in 2007. That total peaked in 2006 at 172,528.

piracy.jpgPiracy is back in the news. The latest is the hijacking of a 17,000-ton container ship off the coast of Somalia. The Pentagon says the American crew has retaken control of the vessel, but the captain is still being held hostage.

The International Maritime Bureau tracks acts of piracy. IMB reports that since Jan. 1 there have been 25 vessel attacks off East Coast Somalia -- seven resulting in hijackings. The Bureau maintains a Live Piracy Report on the web with details of incidents occuring the last ten days. In addition, there's a world Live Piracy Map that locates all acts of ocean piracy and armed robbery in 2009. You'll see the full details of the incident when you click on the pinpoint. This IMB site also provides annual maps back to 2005.

To get a national perspective on child abuse and the efforts of local government agencies to prevent it, take a look the recent report, Child Maltreatment 2007, prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. The 162-page document is filled with statistics derived from data collected by CPS agencies across the country. Among the national findings for fiscal 2007:

* An estimated 794,000 children were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect. Of these 1,760 died (a rate of 2.35 deaths per 100,000).

* Of the estimated 3.2 million referrals to government (involving the maltreatment of 5.8 million children), 61.7 percent of cases were screened for investigation/assessment by CPS agencies.

* Nearly 80 percent of perpetrators were parents and another 6.6 percent were other relatives of the victim. Female perpetrators outnumber male ones by 56.5 percent.

The Bee reported today a spike in home burglaries in the south part of Sacramento -- a 59 percent increase since February. Police have arrested 17 burglars or prowlers in the past month, some linked to several break-ins. The Sac PD provides the public with some sophisticated online tools for tracking crime in various parts of the city. An interactive map lets you plot reported crimes in a neighborhood or at a specific intersection. You can limit the search by type of crime and time period (within the past 12 months). Clicking "view report" gets you a list of all the crime incidents displayed on the map. In addition to this mapping function, the police website also has annual crime databases which you can download in a form compatible with spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel. The data goes back to 1997.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Sacbee's own CrimeMapper system which displays crimes reported to law enforcement agencies in the region (Sacramento, Sacramento County, Elk Grove, Folsom, Lincoln, Rocklin, Roseville). You search the interactive map by typing in an address, setting a distance around that location and choosing one or more types of crimes. The results appear as pin-points on a Google map accompanied by a complete list of the incidents.

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Incidentally, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on the value and meaning of the per capita state tax collection chart included in the last I-Tool Tips entry. I appreciate the thoughtful debate that ensued.  

Today debuted a new crime feature  that provides current arrest logs for cities in the four-county region. You can browse a town's recent arrests displayed in reverse chronological order. Each record contains the arrestee's name, date, city of residence, charges and state code numbers, bail amount and police agency. This information comes from, an online company that collects crime data from cities and towns across the state. The Arrest Logs supplement Crimemapper, Sacbee's map-based database of reported crimes in the region.

To put these individual arrests in a larger context, you could consult the statistical tables and charts in Crime in California, the state attorney general's annual report that began publication in 1952. (The 1996-2006 editions are available free online.) Crime in California contains over 100 pages of data on "crimes, arrests, adult felony arrest dispositions, adult corrections, criminal justice expenditures and personnel, citizens' complaints against peace officers, and domestic violence." The arrest numbers are broken down by demographics, crime category (violent, property) and type (homicide, theft, arson, etc.). Between 1960 and 2006, total arrests per 100,000 population peaked in 1974 (with 8,984.1). The absolute number of arrests peaked in 1990 (with 1,979,355).

Bee data guy Phillip Reese just posted a new interactive database with which you can call up the latest crime stats on any U.S. city over 100,000 population. The data profiles display the number of crimes by type, as well as overall property and violent crime rates for the first six months of 2008. 2007 figures are included for comparison.

You can view this new semiannual Uniform Crime Report on the FBI web site. In addition to the city data, the report has two interesting tables showing the precent change in various crime types -- January to June 2008 -- by geographic region and population range


As someone born and raised in Chicago, I'm both embarrassed and intrigued by the latest case of political corruption in Illinois. I'm not alone -- the whole world seems focused on the arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich for trying to sell his U.S. Senate appointment and other slimy misdeeds. 

We take it for granted, but one of the miracles brought by the Internet is the easy availability of primary documents in criminal cases, and the Blagojevich case is no exception. You can call up the 78-page criminal complaint with a click of a mouse (warning: profanity included). It's filled with shocking wiretap quotations, like this gem: "I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I'm saying. And if I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself."

Also available online is the U.S. Attorney's press release, press conference transcript and video announcing the Governor's arrest. If you're really obsessed, you can browse Blagojevich's campaign contributions using the the State of Illinois' campaign disclosure database

Phillip Reese, the Bee's principal data cruncher, has researched long-term crime trends in the six-county Sacramento region. He's compiled the data in two sets of charts that will be housed permanently on the Investigations Page. The first set, posted today, tracks violent crime rates from 1985-2007, as reported by the city and county law enforcement agencies. The second, posting Tuesday morning, does the same for property crime in the region.

To prepare the crime trend charts, Reese used data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the annual series of statistics provided by nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the nation. Crime in the United States, 2007 is the latest compilation of reported crime. Aside from the data on offenses, the publication includes data about the age, gender and race of arrestees, as well as data about police employees (sworn officers and civilian workers).

The Bureau of Justice Statistics provides a handy web-searchable database for extracting UCR crime data for specific places across multiple years (back to 1985). You can search by single offense type (homicide, rape, etc.) or aggregated crime category (violent and property crime). The resulting table shows the number of offenses, population and the calculated crime rate (per 100,000 persons). 

About Data Surfer

It's all about information -- statistics, documents and data of all types that help us understand the world, make informed decisions and monitor government. It's about empowering citizens with tools and sources so they can conduct their own investigative research. This blog is a place to discuss information that's available on the Internet. What's relevant, useful, valid and accurate -- and what's not.

We know the Sacramento region is home to knowledgeable people who use online information in their respective fields. We want to hear from you. Please tell us what you think of the data we use in stories and post on The Bee's website. And share tips about online resources you think are valuable to this blog's readers. Post comments on this blog or contact Pete Basofin directly at

June 2010

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