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Kalamazoo may not be 'one of the most dangerous cities in America' after all

Police tape across a road at night. Police cars with lights on in the background.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
FILE - A police tape blocks a road near the scene in Sacramento County, California. Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Western Michigan University sociologist Whitney DeCamp said the FBI's recently releasedannual urban crime reporthas its uses. But not for comparing one city to another.

Several news stories based on a recently released FBI crime report suggested Kalamazoowas one of the most violent cities in the U.S. But one expert says that’s a dubious conclusion.

Whitney DeCamp teaches sociology at WMU. DeCamp said for various reasons, the FBI’s annual crime report is not very useful for comparing one city to another.

One big reason: about four in 10 public safety agencies across the country sat this year's report out. DeCamp said more agencies used to submit data, but participation dropped this year after reporting rules became more complex.

”Because of the amount of time it takes" to follow those rules, "there's fewer agencies that are reflected in this report than in previous years”, said DeCamp.

 Some larger cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles didn’t report at all. With so much data missing, it’s hard to say where Kalamazoo ranks nationwide.

“And that is exactly why the FBI specifically tells everyone not to make rankings and not to compare cities”, concluded DeCamp.

Decamp also pointed other factors such as over- or underreporting of crimes.

But he said the report can be helpful for measuring a city’s crime rate over time, if you look at a long enough period.

“It's easy to mistake slight variations from year to year for a trend. And so that's why it's important to really look at many years when you're looking at small numbers like this”, DeCamp said.