Crime – more precisely, crime statistics – seems to have taken over the mayoral campaign.
How to make the city safer should be part of every discussion in every local political race. Nothing is more crucial than a community's ability to ensure law, order and the personal safety of its citizens.
But voters should remember that numbers alone don't usually tell the whole story.
The statistics Tim Smith has been slinging at Mayor Tom Henry appear to be accurate. So are the numbers Henry has offered in return. The problem is that they provide different slices of reality.
Take, for instance, Smith's point that violent crime has risen by at least 17% in the years Henry has been mayor. Smith's campaign arrived at that charge by starting with the rate for violent crime – murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault and robbery – in 2008, the year Henry first took office, and comparing it with the rate in 2018.
But Henry argues that 2018 was an exceptionally high-crime year. Apparently crunching the same FBI Uniform Crime Rate data, Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed noted in an oped piece earlier this month that compared with the preceding decade, the average violent crime rate went down during 2008-17, the first decade of Henry's mayorship – and in fact the rate remains lower than the national average.
A similar hall of mirrors confronts voters who try to evaluate the city's progress on safety based only on the homicide rate. Many recall the record-setting numbers of killings in 2013 and 2018. But Fort Wayne's homicide rate so far this year is markedly lower, and the percentage of homicides being solved is higher.
Crime is at best a no-win issue for any incumbent mayor. One murder is too many. One rape or armed robbery or aggravated assault is too many. But will the challenger's plan to put more officers on walking patrols change those outcomes? That may be an idea worth exploring. Voters should balance that proposal, though, against ideas the Henry administration has already put into practice.
They should remember the enlightened and effective approach Henry's police department has taken on the opioid crisis these past few years, working with the health care communities to emphasize helping victims as well as enforcing the law. They should consider the department's efforts to focus enforcement on gangs, illegal guns and known violent criminals. The efforts of the administration's Fort Wayne United and TenPoint Coalition to protect embattled neighborhoods and steer young black men away from crime are part of the picture, too.
Our advice for voters in this mayoral election: Back away from the calculator. Long-term trends and short-term downticks in the crime rate are important parts of the picture. But it's also about whether you feel secure on the street, in your workplace, in your home, and whether you think the police department is an effective partner in the effort to build a better, safer community. If you do, don't let a few numbers in political ads scare you.