Area's danger rating raises eyebrows


This is supposed to be the fourth-most dangerous neighborhood in the United States.

Sure, many of the homes have bars on the windows, and the neighborhood watch sign has been tagged with graffiti. But the children playing outside Maria Betancourt's house, just east of downtown Las Vegas, don't seem to notice.

Betancourt, a mother of four who has lived in the same house on Cedar Avenue for nine years, chuckled at the dubious designation.

"It's not like, 'Oh my god, it's a great neighborhood,' but it's not really bad," she said.

Her neighborhood, wedged between Eastern Avenue, Bonanza Road, Mojave Road and Charleston Boulevard, was ranked the fourth-most dangerous place in the nation in a new study by NeighborhoodScout.com, which hawks detailed neighborhood studies for a $29.99 monthly subscription.

Two other Las Vegas neighborhoods, primarily in West Las Vegas near downtown, cracked the top 10, which included neighborhoods from Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas criminal justice professor William Sousa questioned the study's results, saying it's nearly impossible to compare national crime figures with any meaning because every location has its own demographics, police force and other factors that influence crime.

But even on an unscientific level, the study's results don't add up, he said.

"To say the top 25 most dangerous places in American (include) three in Las Vegas doesn't even make intuitive sense," Sousa said.

The study grabbed headlines last week across the nation on news and radio shows and several websites, including Time and CNN.

Andrew Schiller, from the Rhode Island-based company that conducted the study, said it was based on 2008 FBI crime data and U.S. Census tract neighborhood data. The figures were run through 18 computer models to predict how crime in each city would be distributed among its neighborhoods, which were ranked by per-capita violent crime rates.

But the study appeared to include a common error when it comes to studies of Las Vegas crime numbers.

The detailed neighborhood reports cite crime numbers from the Metropolitan Police Department, whose jurisdiction includes about 1.3 million residents in both the city of Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County. Yet the study lists a population of 393,130 for Las Vegas, less than a third of the agency's jurisdiction.

Using the smaller population figure would triple the per-capita crime rates for each neighborhood and skyrocket them up the rankings.

Schiller did not return phone messages seeking clarification on which population figures were used in his study.

Las Vegas police officer Bill Cassell called the study "voodoo science" and pointed to department statistics over the past three years that show violent crime has plummeted 27 percent and property crime has fallen 38 percent within the department's jurisdiction.

"He's basically using flawed data as the basis for a hypothetical analysis," Cassell said.

On Cedar Avenue, Betancourt doesn't worry as her two youngest children run up and down the quiet street with a half-dozen other neighborhood children.

She did say she would like to move someday, but not because she fears for her safety. She would like to have a better house. Until then, she will raise her family in the same house in the same neighborhood she has been for nearly a decade, unconcerned about its newly minted status as the fourth-most dangerous neighborhood in America.

"It's just a normal place," she said, "like everywhere else.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

 

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