Area auto thefts

If a St. Joseph man wakes up in the morning to find that his pickup truck is missing, we’re sure his first thought isn’t going to be about statistics.

There will be little thought to how St. Joseph stacks up with other communities. The person’s reaction will be emotional — probably unprintable — especially if the truck is found burning near King Hill lookout.

According to data from the Missouri Crime Reporting Program, St. Joseph had 562 reported auto thefts in 2018. No one seems to debate this number or the notion that vehicle thefts are a problem for St. Joseph. The issue revolves around how our city compares to areas that experience the exact same problem.

St. Joseph Police Chief Chris Connally questions the relevance of statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, or NCIB. One of its reports, for 2018, ranked St. Joseph 10th in the country for the rate of vehicle thefts.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau is a nonprofit entity that uses the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics for its rankings. The chief cautions that the numbers are pulled from a wider metropolitan statistical area. He suggests that St. Joseph compares more favorably when measured within the city limits.

In an email to News-Press NOW, a spokesman for the NCIB strongly defends its methodology, saying it only collects statistics on metropolitan statistical areas as defined by the U.S. Office for Budget and Management. These are the same metro areas used to collect and compare statistics on unemployment.

Connally, however, is right to say that O’Fallon, a bedroom community near St. Louis, is not a good city comparison for St. Joseph despite similar overall population. (In terms of income and poverty, a better comparison would be Pueblo, Colorado, which appears fourth — worse than St. Joseph — on the latest metro area vehicle theft rankings.) Presumably, the chief in St. Louis wouldn’t complain about being lumped in with O’Fallon because a study that pulls data from a wealthier suburb would tend to blunt the statistical impact of high crime in St. Louis city.

The four-county NCIB report showed 674 vehicle thefts for the St. Joseph metro area last year, compared to 562 in the police department’s report for the city. This would imply that roughly four of every five thefts in the insurance bureau’s data occurred in St. Joseph.

What’s lost in this debate is that the insurance crime bureau ranked St. Joseph’s metro area fifth in the country for auto thefts in 2017 and 10th in 2018.

That St. Joseph is trending in the right direction should be something the chief of police would want to highlight. However, it won’t do much to soothe the anger of the fictional guy whose truck vanished.