A.C.’s Perception Problem

Much has been made in the past two weeks about Atlantic City’s “perception” problem.

As Gov. Chris Christie touts plans to clean the city up, ridding it of crime and blight in an effort to save the casino indsutry, news reports, have quoted Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford and other officials saying that crime has actually dropped steadily in Atlantic City over the past two decades, though few people are aware of it.  Any view of Atlantic City as unsafe is just a perception and not the reality, Langford and other officials have said.

“There’s the perception and then there’s the reality with respect to crime in Atlantic City,” Langford told PolitickerNJ. ” Atlantic City is safe. Atlantic City is clean. Perception dictates reality, however, and we have a public relations job. We have got to get the word out: Atlantic City is safe and clean.”

And a look at the cold stats bears that out.  Since 1997, the earliest date for which state police crime statistics are available, the crime rate in the beach front resort has plunged by two thirds, dropping from 277 crimes per 1,000 residents to 90.  The total number of crimes has plummeted as well, dropping from more than 10,600 total reported crimes in 1997 to just under 3,600 in 2008, the latest state police numbers available. 

Those are heady numbers to be sure and viewed in a vacuum show a city that is cleaning itself up.

But any good statistician will tell you that figures often lie, or at least fib a little – not to mention elected officials.

Camden is considered one of the most crime-ridden cities in the state and is often cited as one of the most dangerous cities in the nation. In 2008, the city of 80,000 residents – about double the size of A.C. – had a crime rate that was actually three points below that of the gambling Mecca.

The same is true in Trenton, where gangs and drugs have taken hold.

That city, with about 85,000 residents, boasted an overall 2008 crime rate of 45.5 crimes per 1,000 residents, exactly half the crime rate in Atlantic City.

Violent crime – murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – also is comparable among the three cities. In Camden, the rate of violent crime in 2008 was 22.7 crimes per 1,000 residents, nearly double Trenton’s rate of 12 per 1,000.  Atlantic City boasted a violent crime rate of almost 17 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2008.

A year earlier, however, Atlantic City’s violent crime rate was 22.2, compared to 22.3 in Camden and 14 in the Capital City.

Maybe the problem is Atlantic City isn’t considered dangerous enough.

A.C.’s Perception Problem