What's at stake:
Mayor Jerry Dyer notably excluded key categories from violent crime statistics he shared with the public over the last month. But even if he sliced his numbers differently, year-to-date crime comparisons are most helpful when contextualized within several years of data.
Update: After the publication of this article, Mayor Jerry Dyer contacted Fresnoland to correct statements made by a city spokesperson. This article has been updated to reflect that Dyer did not leave out specific categories when sharing violent crime statistics last month.
At his lengthy budget presentation to the city council in May, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer noted a favorable statistic: violent crime is down.
Compared to last year, Dyer said, violent crime decreased by 16%. His proposed budget gave a different number: year-to-date violent crime was down nearly 20%, according to the document.
A week later, Dyer said in his State of the City address on May 24 that violent crime had gone down by 17% in the last year.
The reason why those statistics were slightly different from each other was because the Dyer used year-to-date figures, which vary from day to day. He used data current as of May 10 for his budget document, which released May 18, and used data current as of May 23 for his State of the City address the following day.
But in his two speeches a week apart, he didn’t specify that violent crime statistics were year-to-date comparisons, or the specific dates used to make those comparisons.
Violent crime commonly refers to four types of offenses: homicide, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. That’s how the FBI and several other agencies define it, including the California Department of Justice and the research arm of the United States Department of Justice.
Fresnoland reviewed violent crime data from Fresno police and found a 10.5% year-to-date decrease, according to 2022 and 2023 data from Jan. 1 to May 30.
Between January and May this year, 11 homicides were reported to Fresno police. Compared with 23 homicides reported during that same time period last year, that amounts to a 52% drop.
That figure is consistent with a homicide statistic Dyer shared during his May 18 budget presentation, but different from his budget proposal document — which instead notes a 60% homicide drop — and his State of the City address — when Dyer said violent crime was down by 54%. That's because different dates were used in those comparisons.
The difference between FPD data obtained by Fresnoland and Dyer’s violent crime statistics comes down to whether city officials clearly explain violent crime statistics and the time period used for comparisons. That clarity is key to understanding crime trends, said Magnus Lofstrom, a senior fellow and director of criminal justice at the Public Policy Institute of California.
But is comparing five months of data from one year with the following year constructive in understanding crime trends? It is, Lofstrom said, as long as it's being contextualized with the trends that came before it, to see if prior patterns are continuing or reversing.
“When I am looking at these kinds of data, I look at what were the trends right before the pandemic hit us in early 2020, and then how are we compared to that period in time?” Lofstrom told Fresnoland.
In the first year of the pandemic, homicides and aggravated assaults increased, not just in Fresno but across the country. That rise didn't rival homicide levels in the 1990s, but the one-year spike was a notable increase.
Lofstrom said that since the first year of the pandemic, those rising crime trends have generally leveled off. That holds true for Fresno and explains why year-over-year decreases are occuring right now.
In his budget proposal last month, Dyer attributed the decrease in violent crime to his administration’s focus on hiring more police officers over the past two and a half years.
The city’s police force increased by about 60 sworn members under Dyer’s administration, totaling 845 police officers as of June 5. Dyer’s proposed budget seeks to boost that number to 900 by the end of the year.
Lofstrom said some research links increased staffing levels of police officers with reductions in violent crime. A larger force also tends to increase arrests for lower-level offenses, which disproportionately impact Black people.
Though research confirms that staffing levels and violent crime may be correlated, that doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other, Lofstrom said. It’s also not a stand-in for explaining the local factors directly contributing to the downward trend in violent crime in Fresno.
“That's exactly why I caution against interpreting the decrease that you've seen year-over-year that coincides with an increase in police staffing,” Lofstrom said. “Research is consistent with that direction, but that does not mean that is truly what has been driving down violent crime in Fresno over that period of time.”