Befuddling crime survey


I got a call from someone doing a crime survey for the University of Maryland during dinnertime tonight. Since the kids were occupied, I went ahead and let the caller start asking questions (No, she didn’t ask if this was a good time to talk. No one seems to do that anymore.) It was a strange survey. She wanted my impressions on crime in my community and kept stressing that those impressions didn’t need to be based on any actual evidence. But she was asking things like, do I think police in my community use offensive language during arrests? I told her I had absolutely no idea. I’d never been close enough to them while making an arrest to hear what they were saying. She didn’t like taking “I don’t know” as an answer. She kept telling me to pick Agree Strongly, Somewhat Agree, Agree, Disagree, Somewhat Disagree, Disagree Strongly. She wanted to know if I thought crime was rising in my community. I asked her how large an area did she want me to consider? She said, you know, your neighborhood, your county. I said, “Whoa. My county is a really wide area. If I’m to consider all the gang crime going on lately in Edgewood in my answers, they would be quite different than if we’re talking about crime in my Bel Air development.” Bel Air had its first murder here this summer in 23 years. Does that mean crime is on the rise? And what about folks she calls in Baltimore County? How do you lump together the city’s busy drug corners and sleepy suburban cul-de-sacs? Then the survey-taker wanted to know if I considered a long list of crimes a serious problem in my “area.” Tossed together in this list were crimes that ranged from shoplifting and burglary to rape and arson. I told her, you’ve got really serious stuff in there and really not serious stuff in there. One rape is serious. One hundred shoplifting cases are probably not so serious (unless it’s from my store.) How do you lump those together? I went along with the survey as best I could, remembering how pleased I am when I’m reporting a story and I manage to get someone willing to talk to me on the phone. But the entire time I kept wishing I could recall crime statistics I’ve seen. I hated making up answers to questions that I know have actual answers. So here’s fair warning that you Maryland residents might be getting a call from the University of Maryland. And here’s another fair warning. When they publish the survey results, be very, very skeptical.