Local, alternative perspective. Insightful stories for the Santa Clara Valley.

SAN JOSE ELECTION 2014 and THE MYTH OF AMERICA’S “SAFEST BIG CITY”; Starting on a doubtful premise (editorial, part 2 of 3)

San Jose, the nation’s tenth largest city, has somehow shaped itself within the urban legend of being America’s so-called “safest big city”; that’s despite the controversies associated with such rankings.
   In the creation of such a moScreen Shot 2015-06-03 at 2.07.10 PMniker, San Jose is compared to other large cities over 500,000 in population. However, is this an appropriate premise from which to start, aside from it being valid? What’s the real significance of San Jose’s comparison to other cities? 

In a previous editorial, de·Anza Post looked at mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo, who has been following closely with the rhetoric of terming-out Mayor Chuck Reed; that is, insisting in recent interview and editorials, from late August into September 2014, that the city’s “crime rate continues to fall in 2014.”  That premise was challenged last by de·Anza Post; whereas, now, this formative moniker that shapes a political construct is brought to question.

It’s factoring such as local demographics, economy, unemployment rates and types of jobs/resident skills that affect crime rates; which is, of course, something that can vary greatly from region to region, across the United States.  But, beyond that, how does our own city abridge or “cut and paste” information from its own police and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports?  Furthermore, is the quality of life and safety the same in one part of the city, versus that of its other neighborhoods?

First of all, it’s not as though cities and both their police and fire departments haven’t been subject to controversy about their statistical reporting; whereas, indeed, that even includes San Jose and these departments’ relationship with City Hall.  In the near past and into the present, San Jose has been accused of both “fuzzy math” and “under-reporting,” differentiating its public relations reports from City Hall and those official reports and analysis that are directly received from either the city’s police and/or fire departments.

Consider, too, these authorities’ responsibilities to the county and/or FBI.  Back in February 2014, it was reported by the likes of KNTV/NBC Bay Area and others that the Fire Department was under political pressure, thereby manipulating and under-reporting response times to the city; which, in turn, lead to ongoing reprimands from the County of Santa Clara.  But, aside from that, this news source found that Mayor Reed and City Hall have been manipulating and/or misrepresented police reports on crimes, such as when claiming that gang-related crimes have significantly dropped.  In fact, they had not.

Even though this would seem unjust, San Jose is not unlike some other cities in regards to its reporting of property and violent crimes or, for that matter, its emergency response times; but, it is circumstances like these and others that bring to question the validity of inter-city comparisons and what they really represent in the interest of the public.

By now, it almost seems given that most residents here recognize that San Jose was once named the nation’s “safest big city” as early as 2002; yet, some people probably believe it’s still true as of 2014, if not in close reach.  In actuality, it was by 2007 that the city lost its six-year reign, so named with this branded status that was created by publisher Morgan Quitno Press.  Seven years is nearly two mayoral terms ago, under outgoing Mayor Chuck Reed.

Since that time, the credibility of this study came under attack; whereas even the FBI itself would not endorse the particular use of its information to create such a moniker, demanding an attachment of a “caution against ranking” disclaimer, thereto.   So, then, why don’t local politicians — including the current Mayor, City Council and present mayoral candidates — distance themselves from this discredited idea?

Even now as of 2014, it seems that political interests are uncompromising in their attempt to reclaim that legacy, if not by its rightful merit, then with an outward appearance.

Many critics have pointed out that such branding — as created by Morgan Quitno —might be good for magazine and news circulation, as well as for public relations and political campaigns in cities; but, in reality, such fabricated reports should receive little relevance in our considerations.  They should not become the premise or basis from which larger discussion carries out.   Nonetheless, such claims become quoted infinitely by press and politicians; orchestrated in similar talking points; carried across the Internet and by word-of-mouth; whereas, it eventually establishes itself as an urban myth, with that popular sense of “truthiness.”

(Read some critiques, here, for example.)

The moniker, “America’s Safest City,” was created by Morgan Quitno Press, along with other categories that are marketed at large, like “Smartest State”; “Most Dangerous State”;  “Most Dangerous City”; “Most Dangerous Metro Area”; “Most Livable State”; “Healthiest State”; “Most Improved State” and so on.

Since 2007, Morgan Quitno has been acquired by CQ Press, a division of Congressional Quarterly Inc.

The same year (2007) Morgan Quitno was acquired, it was also condemned for its brands.  While San Jose residents like to believe that they are “America’s Safest Big City,” what’s often been overlooked is the criticism against that ranking, which comes from none other than the FBI; but, also the American Society of Criminology and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Even now in 2014, Mayor Reed and his campaigning political candidates like Sam Liccardo, Dave Cortese (and others), seem to continue this discourse, based on a refuted premise.  For that matter, it’s even mentioned in the banter between the Police Officers Association (POA) and Mayor Reed, with his supporters.  Even now, as pointed out in the previous editorial by de·Anza Post, these FBI statistics appear to be subject to interpretation, adding to controversy and acrimony.

For example, in that last editorial, de·Anza Post compared San Jose’s property crimes — including the high values of motor vehicle theft — to that of violent crimes; whereas, at the start of Mayor Reed’s term (ironically in 2007), the FBI and U.S. Conference of Mayors came together and issued a press release saying:

Among other reasons the rankings are bogus…
In computing the rankings, Morgan Quitno/CQ weighs automobile theft as equal to homicide. “Most people would probably prefer to have their car stolen than to be murdered,” Mayor Duffy noted. “You would not know this from the rankings.”

Nevertheless, the facts show that more people are affected by automobile and property theft — every day and by the hour — than they are victims of homicide.   Truly, nobody wants to die or experience the loss of a loved person.   Plus, it’s grotesque to see such facts misrepresented amongst other crimes.  All the same, some people might say that it’s things like out of control blight, poverty, and violations against property that leads to more serious crimes, such as those against the body.  Typically, cities like Detroit and/or Oakland, CA are used as examples of cities that escalate out of control, even though they are different in size and density.

Indeed, many states can vary in their interpretations of things like vehicular homicide/manslaughter.   Although California seems better in most other regards, amongst the cities and states that make this comparison; inversely, it’s California’s vehicular manslaughter laws that are more lenient than any and all of these others, including that of Texas, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Michigan.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD),  reporting on “Approximate Jail or Prison Sentences Possible in Traffic Crash Deaths Caused by a Drunk Driver,” California figures at 0 to 10 years; compared to North Carolina, which is 15 to 480 months (15 months or 40 years).

Not forgetting North Dakota, as it’s there that such a crime could be zero to life imprisonment.

Ultimately, then, it begs to question: where does vehicular manslaughter figure in California’s statistics?  How do city’s report it? Despite high population in many of California’s biggest cities, plus the number of drivers therein; supposedly, relatively fewer are actually prosecuted and convicted.

Moving on to another part of the complaint from the FBI and U.S. Conference of Mayors, it focused on both geographic and demographic differences between cities; such as to question those cities of which San Jose is compared.  In that sense, is it really a fair and accurate comparison, aside from helping understand your own city’s predicaments?  The said complaint continued:

The rankings are shaped in good measure by the geography of the city they examine. Older U.S. cities are generally smaller and do not contain middle-class, low-crime areas that lie in their suburbs; newer cities, by contrast, tend to have wider boundaries that contain these neighborhoods.

Indeed, in 2010, critics scoffed at New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, such as when he forwarded the idea that his city “remains the safest big city in America, according to an analysis of crime data released by the FBI in its Crime in the United States.”  After all, it should seem like common sense that no other city even comes close in comparison to New York in terms of population and demographics.

New York — not including the outer tri-state area — is more than twice the size of the nation’s second largest city, Los Angeles (i.e, holding steadily at 46% of the NYC population).    NYC includes nearly 470 square miles with a density of about 27,779 per square mile; compared to LA that is situated within a comparable 467 square miles, but only with a density of 8,282 per square miles (i.e., 30% of NYC).  Furthermore, NYC has approximately 34,500 uniformed officers to that of LA, with just over 10,000 sworn employees (supposedly, those numbers are questionable, too, like that of San Jose, but still grossly larger by the tens of thousands).

So, indeed, this points out the diversity and complexity between American cities.  Such that NYC is older, denser and more urbanized across its five boroughs, all of which are connected by grand avenues and a network of subway lines.  Whereas, LA is relatively more contemporary, scattered and sprawled out across a mix of established and newer neighborhoods that are either urban or suburban, primarily connected by boulevards and freeways.

This shows that the two biggest cities are clearly in a league of their own; but, there’s also a significant difference between San Jose and the other top six populous U.S. cities, which are all maintaining their rank.

In recent times, San Jose has 895,000 to just under 1 million people (projected as of 2014).  It is now ranking tenth in the nation; yet, still, it only has about a quarter of the percentage of the Los Angeles population (3.6 to 3.9 million);  as well as about 11% of NYC (8 to 8.4 million).

Even the other top six cities are expected to maintain their rank, as all of them reach into the range from to 1.5 to 2.7 million, including (3) Chicago, (4) Houston, (5) Philadelphia  and (6) Phoenix, AZ.

At its current growth rate, it could take San Jose a few decades to reach that next realm.

San Jose went up in rank when Detroit went down; as is San Francisco expected to trade places with Jacksonville, Florida.  But, Detroit is expected to fall drastically, to number 18; making itself an uncommon example amongst other cities.  Still, yet, it’s the cities of Texas that are nowadays most closely expected to rival that of California’s, which are rising fast like California cities had done decades removed in time.

California and Texas can be compared in some ways (especially as they compete for business); but, they also starkly contrast.  Given statistics from census 2000, and the projections for 2013, the top cities in California include: Los Angeles (steady at #2), San Diego (down from #7 to 8), San Jose (up from #11 to 10)  and San Francisco (down from #13 to 14).  That’s compared to Texas cities like Houston (steady at #4), Dallas (down from #8 to 9), San Antonio (up from 9 to 7) and Austin (up from 16 to 11).

While Texas is coming up fast behind California, the closest comparisons to San Jose would be Dallas, at nearly 1.3 million, and Austin at 885,400.  But, Austin’s rank is based on an unusual growth projection, whereas it’s really outpacing San Francisco in population, right behind San Jose in rank.  Similarly, California’s San Diego is outpacing Dallas.   As for San Antonio, it’s expected to jump to #7 with 1.4 million.  At that, these are probably the best of comparisons… if you think California cities are at all like those in Texas.

TAKE A LOOK AT THE ATTACHED CHART, including America’s biggest cities (click on the image to enlarge):

  1. BIGGEST CITIES between 1.0 and 1.5 MILLION in POPULATION
  2. BIGGEST CITIES between 500,000 and 1.0 MILLION in POPULATION 

CLICK THE CHART TO ENLARGE. (Note: leaders of the most positive statistics, by each category, are highlighted in blue; whereas, the most negative are highlighted in red).


First of all, if you look closely, notice that one of the remarkable differences of California’s biggest cities — from all these others in the comparison chart — is that people seem to live remarkably better.   That is, if not in regards to crime, then in regards to income and poverty.

Life seems to be better in all of California’s cities, than in other cities and states that are whereabouts Texas, Indiana, Florida, North Carolina & Michigan.  Indeed, life in many of these other cities and states has a lower household income and a greater percentage of poverty.

In that sense, you would assume that crime is worse elsewhere, outside of California’s biggest cities…

You could also assume that San Jose is still — relatively — one of the “The Safest Big Cities in America”; although, in that regard, it’s not much different from other big cities in California.   All  of California’s biggest cities have a generally  better outcome than these other out-of-state cities.

In other words, and in most cases, it’s not exactly flattering to compare San Jose to these other cities, except for bragging about this city’s and state’s “exceptionalism.”  Even though California has its problems — like severe drought — it’s still leading the way in many respects.

Then, too, even amongst California’s so-called similar and biggest cities, San Jose remains rather atypical.  It has been positioned as such for decades now, term after political term, regardless of how politicians try to capitalize on that status.

San Diego may be greater in population than San Jose by another 300,000 to 400,000 people; but being a household community of Silicon Valley, San Jose fares better in median income.  That’s even though some smaller nearby cities — like Atherton and Los Altos/Los Altos Hills —  far exceed in income wealth to San Jose, San Francisco, and San Diego.

Unlike San Jose and San Diego, San Francisco has the least square miles of land — plus the greatest density therein — for the range of cities from 500,000 to 1 million; while, it also doesn’t compare to NYC’s #1 top ranked population and density.   Although SF ranks second, nationally, to NYC’s density; nevertheless, it cannot brag about its share of “wealthiest zip codes,” as can NYC.    Moreover, NYC makes Atherton look quaint, just as it provides its own exceptional way of life.  (Click that link for a Forbes Magazine list of so-called “America’s Most Expensive Zip Codes)

Do we all live the same?  …not just with regards to cities out-of-state, but in the same county or even on the other side of town?

For Californians, the average median household income from 2008-2012 is $61,400; as that is compared to Texas, which is $51,563.  San Diego, San Jose, and San Diego are all above their state’s average income; whereas, Austin is the only city in Texas above its state average, relative to those that are below such average, like San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth.

For California, the average percentage of persons below poverty level, from 2008-2012, is 15.3%; as compared to Texas, which is 17.4%.  This time, Austin fails in such regards, as it’s included with San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth, having a greater percentage of impoverished citizens than that of their state average.  In contrast, people who live in California’s biggest cities are above their state’s average poverty percentage.

Is it good to be an urban Californian? So far it seems true to be so.

For Indiana, from 2008-2012, on average, the median household income is $48,374; whereas, the percentage of persons below poverty is 14.7%.  Indianapolis performs worse in both those state averages.

For Florida, from 2008-2012, on average, the median household income is $47,309; whereas, the percentage of persons below poverty is 15.6%.  Jacksonville has more persons in poverty than the state average.

For Michigan, from 2008-2012, on average, the median household income is $48,471 and the percentage of persons below poverty is 16.3%.  Detroit is worse than both those state averages.  But, of course — to be fair and honest — Detroit is also a city that’s in an “exceptional” crisis.   It has an abysmal circumstance that has caused its population to drop ranking from #10 to 18.  Detroit is devastated, with the greatest population loss, as well as what’s now the lowest population as relative to the comparative cities.  It has the highest of crimes per 100,000, as well as the worst poverty percentage and household income.

What’s ironic, is that Detroit traded its ranking position with the City of San Jose; but, more than that, also consider that Detroit’s prior size, as of 2000, was very comparable.  Things go slowly bad; but, once they take hold, it can escalate quickly.  What’s unchanged and similar between these two cities — even now — is the geographic land by square miles, plus its population density.  Of the biggest cities between 500,000 and 1 million in population, San Jose has become ranked as the highest in population.  That’s while Detroit is at the lowest.

Just-like-that, it’s a “reversal of fortune” …plus, the ironies don’t end there between San Jose and Detroit’s trading places.  San Jose has the least violent crimes to Detroit’s most.   Furthermore, Detroit has the highest poverty percentage, to San Jose’s lowest.  But, while Detroit — known as the “auto city” of all things — leads in the number of auto thefts, San Jose is strangely higher in this category, ranking just second to Detroit and all those other cities of comparable size.  Where Detroit’s main economy has traditionally been as the headquarters of the automobile industry; it’s San Jose that is primarily built on the idea that it’s the “Capital of Silicon Valley” and its technology industry.

Hypothetically, given ten, twenty or more years, how will San Jose and Silicon Valley compare? Once a prominent U.S. metropolitan and center of the American way of life, there was a gradual decay of towns like Detroit and Flint, Michigan (sharing a related economy and cultural history).  What’s more, not far away is Indianapolis, IN: 4 ½ hours/283 miles.  Columbus, OH: 3 ½ hours/200 miles.  The economic misery is distributed south on the highway, where those two other cities are found comparatively stagnant in growth, aside from that their median income is low and poverty is high.

Of these “biggest cities,” Detroit is the fastest shrinking, contrasted against the fastest growing amongst them:

Fort Worth, which is the fastest growing of the big cities, jumps ranks by a difference of ten; i.e., upward to #17 from 27.  In that jump, it’s still just above a populace of 500,000, but, not yet improving income and poverty.   By comparison, San Jose has not seen such growth since the late 1960s to 1970s.   Currently, Fort Worth’s nominal population growth is just behind San Jose; such as when comparing Fort Worth’s 36,786 additional to San Jose’s 38,823 new residents between years 2010 and 2012.  That’s merely a difference of 37 people.

So, while San Jose is 9th in growth, it’s not maintaining its base, like that of New York, Los Angeles or Houston; just as it’s not growing as fast as San Antonio, Austin, and Charlotte.  That is, San Jose and Fort Worth are differing by amounts of another 6,500 to just under 19,000 persons, comparative to these cities just ahead in the growth amounts and rank.  These other cities’ improvements represent momentum, as much as a transition.

As for North Carolina, from 2008-2012, on average, the median household income for people living in Charlotte is better than the rest of state; whereas the percentage of persons below poverty is also less.  But, having said that, this city nevertheless barely passes the test.  There’s only a difference of 0.8%, with a poverty percentage of 16% to that of the state’s 16.8%.  Indeed, Charlotte’s percentage of poverty is the same as Jacksonville.  So, the rank is somewhat deceiving.

Comparatively, San Diego manages to have the lowest property crime rate, while having one of the highest populations of the biggest cities.  That, too, makes it a bit of a quandary.  On the opposite side of the spectrum is San Antonio, which is the next greatest city, ranked by population.  Ironically, between years 2000 and 2013, San Diego traded places with San Antonio at rank #7.

It’s another reversal of fortunes and contrast of opposites.   Aside from their population and geographical size, San Diego, and San Antonio, are notably different in terms of population density, median household income and percentage of poverty.  It highlights not just the difference between California and Texas, but many of these cities.

Consider the year 2000 U.S. Census, in which it was stated that there were only 29 cities with populations above 500,000; whereas, a projected increase was estimated to 34 cities by 2013.  Why does this matter?  In addition to what’s pointed out above, there would have been only four of such cities in California as of 2000 of which to compare, if not five of them by 2013.

Fresno, CA is coming up into the chart ranks, but it’s still worlds behind.   Then again, over the next decade, the building and introduction of the California High-Speed Rail could drastically transform Fresno at the center of the state’s Central Valley region.  Fresno could become California’s next boomtown, like San Jose was decades ago, although it has Sacramento and Long Beach ranking just behind it.

Truly, San Jose is in a peculiar place, not like many of these other cities, aside from its difference to those in its own state.

But, even beyond that, it should be considered that one part of San Jose (or that of its county, for that matter) can seem very different from another.   You don’t have to look far to see inequality or inconsistency in public safety.  It’s right here amongst us.

Indeed, many San Jose families are currently watching their particular neighborhoods transform from a relatively safe place to one that’s overrun by violence, property crimes, gangs, drug dealers and more.

Ultimately, many neighborhoods, especially at the east side of San Jose, have seen a wave of homicides.   For example, back on 29 July, NBC Bay Area (KNTV) reported that “In just about  12 hours, two people were killed in San Jose – one stabbed, one shot – bringing the city’s homicide toll to 22 in 2014.” The first was in east San Jose, near Interstate Highway 680, while the second was in downtown San Jose.  Still, just months later, San Jose had reached its 29th homicide, southeast of Hayes Mansion, between Monterey Road and Highway-101.  In that report, it was said that a previous homicide in the city had occurred just a month earlier, as of 2nd August.

Although the City of San Jose points to online mapping systems that are supposed to show where crimes are occurring across the city, at the time of this writing, those maps do not show crimes like homicide.  Maps provided are from CrimeReports.com and MyNeighborhoodUpdate.Net.

Despite this inequality in the city, Mayor Reed seems to perpetuate the idea that crime issues in San Jose are overblown, simply a bunch of rhetoric from the POA and not really San Jose’s primary issue.   That’s even though many residents are complaining about crime in their neighborhoods and throughout the city.   To that, Reed says: “For property crimes, we had the sixth-lowest rate of the more than 30 cities over 500,000 population in the first half of 2013.”  Then, too, don’t forget that Reed’s “fuzzy math” was also pointed out at an earlier paragraph in this article, especially in regards to gangs.

Plus, there are the quandaries discussed in all the previous paragraphs, showing the relativity of being “America’s Safest City,” versus what Sam Liccardo calls (in his campaign slogan) a “Safer City.”

Along with all of this, there’s the previous editorial by de·Anza Post that shows that Reed’s tenure in office has seen an increase in total property crimes, from 2007 to 2013, for the amount of $18,672,709.  In shorthand, that’s near $18.7 million.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 10.16.21 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 10.16.21 PM

Reed and Liccardo want voters to believe that public safety has improved since 2012’s record-breaking 32,010 crimes; that is after voters approved June 5, 2012’s Measure B pension reform.

In yet another future article, de·Anza Post will look at Measure B and its impact on San Jose residents.  What’s the so-called “promise” of June 5th, 2012’s Measure B pension reform?  That’s either then, now or in the future?

The following sources additionally assist in researching and confirming information as discussed in this article:

United States Census Bureau:

City-data.com (topics by city)

World Population Statistics (topics by city):

Wikipedia.org, articles by topic, such as:


Here are more examples of how cities can either manipulate, under report, re-classify or just overlook various types of crimes:

  • The Los Angeles Times reported in August 2014, that their “review found LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 serious violent crimes as minor offenses during a recent one-year period. Had the incidents been recorded correctly, the level of serious assaults in the city during that time would have been almost 14% higher than what the LAPD reported and overall violent crime would have jumped nearly 7% higher, The Times found.”
  • Chicago Magazine reported in April 2014 that it “found dozens of other crimes, including serious felonies such as robberies, burglaries, and assaults, that were misclassified, downgraded to wrist-slap offenses, or made to vanish altogether.”
  • The Columbus Dispatch reported in late September 2014, that “reports on college crime are deceptively inaccurate… some purposely under report crimes to protect their images… weaknesses in the law allow for thousands of off-campus crimes involving students to go unreported, and the Education Department does little to monitor or enforce compliance with the law…”
  • Minnesota Public Radio reported just recently this October 2014, that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has claimed: “that African-Americans in Minneapolis were more than 11 times likelier than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana…”; whereas, there are also “significant racial disparities” in regards to arrests in other categories of crime.
  • The Advocate (a national gay news magazine) also reported recently this October 2014, that “After allegedly attacking two men he believed were gay at a Dallas airport Thursday, McCleish Christmas Benham has been charged with disorderly conduct and simple assault…” That creating controversy and anger amongst many people who this man would unlikely to be faced with hate crime charges; instead, merely having “misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and simple assault.”  For example, consider if the accused had instead assaulted this other person while on the airplane during flight, instead of while waiting to board.  Still, lawyers question if hate crime charges can be made, since the accused was influenced by alcoholic intoxication; however, The Shelbyville Times-Gazette reports that Benham was arrested last year for “theft of property,” and was released on $1,500 bail.  Hate crime rates vary from state to state, but can also reflect differences in attitude and bias amongst a citizenry, aside from their motivation to commit crimes.

* * *  *  *

[Editor’s Personal Note: I was on temporary hiatus from writing, after experiencing an arm fracture during early September 2014.   I now intend to resume writing more regularly again, as I recover from injury.  Thanks for your kind words and support through this difficult time.  — David Zappelli]

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This entry was posted on Thursday 30 October 2014 by in CA, Opinion & Editorial, San Jose, San Jose City Hall & Council, Technocracy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .


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