Victoria 'safer' today than any time since 1985

By Stephen B. Tyler - Guest Column
Dec. 30, 2017 at 4:27 p.m.
Updated Dec. 31, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Stephen Tyler

Stephen Tyler   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

I read the Dec. 23 Victoria Advocate article titled "Study: Victoria is relatively unsafe" and was concerned that this survey and the article did not reflect Victoria accurately. I was offered this forum to respond, so let me begin.

Safehome and Chapman University surveys measured "fear(s)," not public safety. Law enforcement contributes to public safety by enforcing laws, thereby protecting persons and property. Laws reflect a society's minimum standards for social interaction. In a free society, police typically are reactive, meaning that the law forbids conduct, not thoughts, and arrest follows illegal conduct. I mention this because a tension exists between safety and liberty. The public does not pay for, invite or tolerate an ever-present and ever-watching; always-intervening police state that stops you before your conduct breaches the law. So, what is the appropriate level of law enforcement? The answer is - enough to keep you "safer." Safer is reducing the experience of and exposure to intolerable conduct and crime. Believing criminal conduct is intolerable, governments empower law enforcement to intervene. Public safety is law enforcement not therapy for phobias.

Safehome and Chapman surveyed fears not criminal conduct and not public safety. Literally, the Chapman survey included: illness, job loss, natural disasters, extinction, nuclear war, terrorism, spiders, zombies, etc. And remember Safehome is marketing alarm systems; fear sells alarms. Protection from all imagined or real fear requires complete control of your life or your thoughts. Interestingly, fear of that type of government control was high on Chapman's survey of fears.

Then how are we to measure "safer" to determine effectiveness of law enforcement? Our federal, state and local governments compare past numbers of crime incidents to present numbers to measure unique communities against themselves. The FBI created a Uniform Crime Report (FBI-UCR). The FBI warns against data comparisons between jurisdictions because variables such as public awareness, victim shame, government responsiveness and witness/victim edification influence reported data. However flawed, a record of historical crime in an area compared to present crime in the same area provides a better measure of that area's law enforcement effectiveness than surveying the existence of fear.

The FBI measures reported crime, creating a ratio per 100,000 persons. The available statistics cover 1984 to 2014. In 2014, the ratios of violent crimes and property crimes in the city of Victoria are 515.8 and 3,514.6, respectively. Victoria is "safer" than it ever has been, despite all the changes in the past 35 years. The one anomaly is the statistics for "Legacy Rape" and "Revised Rape." Victoria combines the two as "Revised Rape," because the FBI definition more closely matches the Texas criminal definitions. Other jurisdictions do not combine these numbers. This likely causes the doubling of Victoria's rape index.

In short, FBI data supports the reporting by Texas Monthly, which indicates that Victoria and three other municipalities have improved their crime statistics better than others and contrary to the statewide https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/the-fbis-list-of-the-most-dangerous-cities-in-texas/" target="_blank">trend. Attached to this column online is data from the FBI-UCR for both Victoria city and county 1985-2014. This, of course, does not say that a person victimized this year is not experiencing an increase in crime from before. Nor does this mean that we do not have a problem with crimes or criminal behavior. It does demonstrate that despite turn-over, budget changes and population changes, your professional law enforcement and professional prosecution have provided you a "safer" community today than any time since 1985. You are receiving an increasingly observable and measurable value for your tax dollar from the efforts of your public servants.

Stephen Tyler is the criminal district attorney for Victoria County, 2007-present. He faces Constance Filley Johnson in the March Republican Primary. He may be contacted at styler@vctx.org.


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