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August 19, 2003

Houston: Not a War Zone

By Jim Dallas

The Houston Press had an interesting note in its "Hair Balls" section this week:

Long ago, city leaders once touted our hometown as "Baghdad on the Bayou." While world events during the last ten years have rendered that moniker somewhat unfashionable, maybe, at least as far as the blood-soaked streets of the Richmond Strip are concerned, they were on to something.

To wit: Since May 1 to the end of July, about 18 U.S. soldiers have been killed in combat in Baghdad. In that same period, seven people have been wounded and five killed in and around the Richmond Strip.

Granted, we still lag behind the Iraqi capital in sheer numbers, but if we extrapolate the Strip's raw data to accord with the population of greater Baghdad, we're.... Well, we're pretty sure that we're comfortably ahead. Baghdad on the Bayou indeed.

A quick check of the math shows that the Press is a little off base. In 2001 (the last year for which statistics are available), the Houston Police Department report 267 incidents of murder and non-negligent manslaughter (read: "hostile deaths"). This works out with a population of 1.9 million to an incident rate of 13.3 hostile deaths per hundred thousand.

For the Richmond Strip itself, we can assume the area population is about 8,000 (since the area immediately surrounding Richmond encompasses about one square mile and the population density of the Montrose area is roughly 8100 people/sq. mile), yielding an annualized incident rate of 162.5 per hundred thousand.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, there have been 192 U.S. combat casualties since March. At maximum there were about 230,000 Americans stationed in Iraq (currently, there are 146,000 deployed).

Figured conservatively, using the smallest numerator and the biggest denominator, the death rate in Americans in Iraq is 83.5 per hundred thousand between March and August; the annual rate would be 200 per hundred thousand .
(Of course if one assumes that all U.S. deaths in Iraq were needless, then the death count is 269 and the annualized rate is 281 per hundred thousand).

It isn't clear how many Americans are in Baghdad itself; although it is known that the city is occupied by elements of the 4th Infantry Division. It is probably reasonable to assume that between 10 and 20 percent of U.S. forces are in the city of Baghdad, where 20 percent of Iraqis live (and 12 percent of US casualties occurred).

Since the number of deaths in Baghdad are not out-of-sync with the casualty rate in the rest of Iraq (Baghdad has about 22% of Iraq's population and presumably no more than half of Americans are stationed there; , one can safely assume that the murder rate in Houston is not higher than in it is in Baghdad; indeed, the Bayou City is 15 times safer. And even figured very conservatively - note that most of the people who traffic the area clubs do not live in Montrose - a Richmond Strip visitor is clearly less likely to be killed than an American soldier in Iraq.

At this point, one may ask why some misleading back-of-the-envelope math by the Houston Press is even of relevance; after all, isn't the point of the "Hair Balls" blurb to make a whimsical observation about crime in the Richmond Strip?

First, area residents should not become hysterical about living or shopping or clubbing along the Richmond Strip. You are not in imminent danger.

Second, one could only imagine what would happen if an unscrupulous politician took hold of the Houston Press's clip and insisted (inaccurately) that Houston is literally becoming a war zone. It is true that crime is a major problem in Houston, with crime rates well above the national average. But it is clearly nowhere near anarchic proportions.

Thirdly, conversely, and more probable, is that the folks who got us into this misbegotten Iraqi war will make bold pronouncements like "our boys are safer in Baghdad than they are in America!" And use that line as both an apology for hawk blunders as well as a siren call for even-tougher measures in the War on Crime at home.

So go have some fun (visit beautiful Houston), but watch your back.

Posted by Jim Dallas at August 19, 2003 06:30 PM | TrackBack


Jim D,
Ever since I was little (1975) and in Houston, they harp on the Montrose area like it is something new that there is a high crime rate there... nevermind the rest of Houston. My brother lives in the Heights... and let's just say I have seen my fair share of shady goings on there too.

Posted by: Erin at August 20, 2003 12:36 PM
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