Atlantic City would fall out of the state’s Top 10 most violent cities if given the same consideration other shore towns are when calculating crime rates, a look at the state Uniform Crime Report shows.
City leaders have long bemoaned that the casino town’s crime rates are unfairly skewed by not taking into account the millions of yearly tourists and thousands of out-of-town employees that add to the population daily.
While some have tried to brush that off as spin, a look at how the State Police’s annual report on crime weighs certain shore towns gives credence to that argument.
Crime statistics are supposed to represent the population at risk, and that is more than the 39,504 year-round residents listed in Census data, retired statistician Anthony Marino said.
“The number is highly skewed for any fairly small town that has a huge influx of visitors,” he said.
A change was made for some towns in 1998, after then-state Sen. James Cafiero said the numbers for his hometown of Wildwood and other shore communities weren’t accurate because they didn’t consider those who take up residence during the summer.
For example, the 2013 crime numbers released this month show that, without the designation, Avalon’s overall crime rate would be 174.1 — more than 2.5 times that of Camden. But when the population is adjusted from the year-round 1,315 to 5,005, the crime rate drops to 46.2.
Forty-nine towns in the state are classified as “resort municipalities” in the State Police report. Those towns are given an adjusted population that considers seasonal residents when calculating crime rates, or the number of crimes committed per 1,000 people.
The number of seasonal residents must be at least 25 percent of the year-round population. The state Department of Labor determines that amount.
For the first two years, Atlantic City reached that threshold. But in 2000, the number of seasonal residents dropped below 25 percent of the total population, Labor spokeswoman Kerri Gatling explained.
“We were told they won’t designate it as a resort community because the resident population doesn’t shift,” said Tourism District Commander Tom Gilbert, who is retired from the State Police. “There’s nothing that addresses the uniqueness of Atlantic City.”
Towns like Avalon and Sea Isle City in Cape May County more than triple their populations with seasonal residents. Ocean City’s population in 2013 went from 11,527 to 22,748 under the adjustment.
But Atlantic City’s population shift is in daily and short-term vacations, not rental homes, so a fair number is harder to come by.
Even with the seasonal population considered, the full picture still isn’t there, Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano said.
If not for seasonal residents, his town would be third in the state for instances of violent crimes, categorized as murder, rape, assault and robbery. When the population is given a 62 percent bump from 5,251 to 8,502, they fall to the ninth spot.
“Most of the crime that we have is kids or whatever who, now they’re down in Wildwood with nobody to control them,” Troiano said. “It’s crime that’s basically brought to us.”
He points out that, if the numbers are to be believed, his town has more overall combined violent and property crime than Camden.
Wildwood’s adjusted overall crime rate is 89.6; Camden’s is 68.9.
“It’s unthinkable they could even come up with these kind of statistics,” Troiano said. “How many shootings are in Camden in the course of a week? (The numbers say) I’m a worse place to live than that. I would rather walk in my town than Camden or Trenton or Newark.”
A look at just violent crime puts Camden at the top at 25.4, even without the adjustment. Wildwood’s is 17.1 before the adjustment, and 10.9 with it.
“There is not an adjustment for being a resort town,” state Sen. Jim Whelan said.
When Whelan was Atlantic City’s mayor in the 1990s, he would often go to Marino to explain the problem in trusting those numbers.
While Whelan said he doesn’t think most people look at the UCR data, it is something that’s used by online communities and the media when putting together lists like “Most Dangerous Cities,” put out by NeighborhoodScout, a site that says it can find the neighborhood that best matches the user’s criteria.
Atlantic City was in the eighth spot overall before the new numbers came out. A look at the 2013 UCR data puts it at No. 2 in the state for violent-crime rate, 17.7, behind only Camden.
“The way the figures are computed, they have to base it on a known number that can be pinned down,” Gilbert said.
Marino helped create a formula that he said more accurately shows how many people are in Atlantic City on any given day. It’s an especially important number with a need to bring more people to the resort.
He used its outcome in a slide presentation that is now available on the city’s website.
First, Marino figured out the number of employees in the city who are not residents. In the past, his equation has taken into consideration a five-day workweek to figure out how many would be in town. Because of job cuts, he now uses about four days to account for an increase in part-time workers. That number came to 21,930 last year.
Then he added in the 24.5 million visitors who visited Atlantic City last year. Considering an average stay of a day and a half, and that some of those visitors are repeat visitors, he said he leaned toward the lower number and came up with an average of 104,383 people visiting every single day.
According to those calculations, the Uniform Crime Report considered less than a quarter of the people in town at any given time in coming up with the crime rate.
Just doubling Atlantic City’s population to 79,008 drops the violent crime rate to 8.8, taking Atlantic City out of the Top 10 in the state altogether, and putting it behind Millville at 8.9.
“Cafiero did a good thing by forcing the UCR people to make those adjustments,” Marino said. “But, in my opinion, they didn’t go far enough.”
Cafiero, now in his 80s, said he wondered whether his legislation was still being used.
“If they’re getting short-changed, I think the bill needs to be amended or fine-tuned,” he said, inviting the current legislators to work off his foundation. “If they feel the public is being misled and they’re getting hit with a higher number, I’m sure those fellows could take the bull by the horns.”
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