What you don't get from crime stats

There is always a story behind the data.

The Uniform Crime Report data is what every law enforcement agency turns into to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and ultimately to the FBI. The data provide a snapshot of the level and type of crime in a community.

This year the data for both the Pensacola Police Department and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office saw drops in violent crime — or as Chief Deputy Eric Haines calls it, “the type of stuff that gets headlines.”

To Haines, the data offer a window into the kind of community we are — and want to be. The best-case scenario is that violent crime overall decreases over time. But many things factor into the index crimes.

“Index crimes have a lot more to do with the economy,” Haines says. “If they don’t have jobs and they aren’t employed, they steal more.”

He is wary of the influence social media has on the public perception of the safety of a community.

What makes a clever headline for a Facebook post doesn’t always reveal, Haines says, the whole story. That can take months to suss out, he says, “But no one will ever read the 800-page case file,” Haines says. “The truth takes a very long time to get to, months sometimes, and people want to know now why something happened.”

As an example, he points to the arrest of the Get Money team, a ring of people arrested last year in a string of as many as 50 car burglaries.

The Get Money Team, according to Haines, met at an alternative school. They trolled the parking lots of apartment complexes, looking for unlocked vehicles. Last summer, they could get as many as 30 or 40 cars a night, Haines says.

“They would be in and out in 15 minutes,” he said. “They were (working) everywhere.”

A video of the crew was posted to the Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page in July.

“If we hadn’t busted up that ring,” Haines says, “we would have had a bigger problem.”

That’s because, he says, a rival theft ring sprung up, and then some adults got involved in the group. The group, Haines says, was poised to move beyond breaking into people cars and stealing valuables out of them.

“They were getting into guns, some of them had raped a girl,” Haines said. “If we hadn’t broken it up, it would have ended up a lot worse in a year or two.”

If they hadn’t broken up the Get Money Team, the year’s burglary figures on the Uniform Crime Report might not have shown a decrease either, Haines said. The year 2014 saw 2,357 burglaries; 2013 saw 2,776.

And what the statistical gods give, they also take.

“The kids will all be getting out in a month or so,” Haines says, “so we will see what happens with the burglary."

Originally published March 9, 2015.