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Rhode Island’s crime data dispels the “crime filled cities” myth

Tyler Jackman

Managing Editor

It’s no struggle to find someone in Rhode Island that will tell you crime has degraded the Ocean State. Our media and elected officials, especially around times of electoral importance, expend immense energy towards bringing the supposed spike in crime to the forefront of public discourse. Crime is certainly not a topic of unimportance; when crime runs rampant, the most marginalized groups face the greatest consequences. If cities that are often maligned for their rates of crime like Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket truly are entrenched, then their spikes should be approached holistically but immediately. Yet, newly released crime data tells a different story. While local and national leaders continue to incite paranoia on rising crime, the data exposes the “crime filled city” narrative as nothing more than a malicious myth.

A newly released FBI data report shows that crime of all types in Rhode Island falls significantly below the national average. Violent crime in Rhode Island between 2021 and 2022 witnessed its largest downturn in nearly ten years, and while property crime remained steady, it also remained at a significant low.

Graph by the Federal Bureau of Investigation

National data is no different in its pacing. While the per capita numbers of violent crime and property crime incidents exceed Rhode Island’s, the downturn in the amount of reported crime is shared between the two. This, of course, cuts against the popular narrative of cities becoming havens for lawlessness. It also begs the questions of who is pushing these narratives, and why exactly they seek to fearmonger on crime within Rhode Island and the entirety of the country.

This, like everything, is a multifaceted issue. Local news plays an understated, yet significant role in influencing public discourse on crime. The sensationalism of crime has long been a plague on local newsrooms, trading off effortless content and viewership boosts with increased hysteria on the local populace. Many newsrooms have slowly eased away in some respects, like cutting away the practices of mugshot galleries and filming high-speed chases, but the overall practice continues to run rampant. As I write this editorial, the homepage of WPRI-TV features five separate crime stories, and five non-crime stories. Four of the ten front page stories on WJAR focus on crime; a fifth encourages recruitment to the Providence Police Department, and a sixth is a puff piece on the Tiverton Police Department.

Image via Wikipedia (Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel)

Local news outlets and their fixation on crime and policing is not borne in a desire to manipulate the public. Instead, it is a quest to retain viewership combined with cozy relationships with local police. After all, “if it bleeds, it leads” has been a maxim attached to television news for decades. News organizations use connections with local police to get quick and seemingly reliable sources for stories, and scrape police reports and press releases for rapid-paced content. Regurgitating police reports make for consistent content with excitable narratives that draw viewers, at the price of fueling the “rampant crime” myth.

Elected officials perpetuate the crime spike myth for both similar and dissimilar reasons. By worsening paranoia by blaming their political and ideological rivals for imagined crime spikes, they can use people’s paranoia to generate votes and donations. In the 2020 election, President Donald Trump unsuccessfully made crime a key tenant of his reelection campaign by falsely claiming Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a known ally of police departments, wanted to defund police departments and would usher in lawlessness. Fox News, a conservative news channel and popular platform for Republican idealogues, also tripled coverage of crime related issues as the 2022 midterms neared. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the hyperfocus on crime from Fox News immediately evaporated after 2022 midterms finished with unprecedentedly poor results for crime-alarmist Republican candidates.

Though analyzing these false narratives and why they are pushed is complex, how to fight them is more clear. Even if they may not be popular opinions, it is crucial to lead with rationality backed by data regarding crime issues. Although crime is a topic we seem surrounded by, and a topic that generates fiery discourse, failing to reject the propaganda tactics perpetuated by elected officials and media outlets risks generating hatred that affects the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals. A clear sense of media literacy is essential, as well. Your local broadcast may lead with a crime-related story, but this does not mean your local city is burning; it means they think that’s the story you'll stay to watch. Most importantly, we cannot let propagandist politicians divide us with scare tactics. We are not a crime-free utopia in Rhode Island or nationwide, but we are not a community of thugs either. These politicians risk losing their grip on power when we do not fear each other, and only wisdom combined with our unity can

silence these damaging lies.



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