In the News

Murder By Numbers, Part One

In the comments to the entry titled The Boxing Day Shooting, an anonymous commenter pointed me to a Globe and Mail article, Do We Need a Boston Miracle?  

The article ends with a table of the murder rates for a number of North American cities. Before I show it to you, let me first explain what is meant by the term “murder rate”.

“Murder Rate” Does Not Mean “Number of Murders”!

Many people misuse the term “murder rate” or “homicide rate” — they often use it when speaking of the number of people who have been murdered. The word rate implies a ratio, which is a mathematical term for a relationship between at least two numbers. For example, let’s take the recipe for one of the simplest cocktails out there: the screwdriver. Most bartender’s manuals recommend 2-to-1 ratio of orange juice to vodka, which means that for every 2 ounces of orange juice, you use 1 once of vodka. Want to use up a 10-ounce can of orange juice? Then you need 5 ounces of vodka handy. Got a pint of vodka? Then you’ll need a quart of OJ. Want a stiffer drink? Change the ratio of orange juice to vodka to 1-to-1. Want something a little less boozy? Make the ratio 3-to-1.

The murder rate is also a ratio: it’s a ratio of the number of murders in a given area to the population of that area. This number is a little more meaningful than just the number of murders in an area alone. Think about it this way: suppose a village of 500 people experiences 50 murders in a year. That’s a big chunk of the village: the ratio of murdered people to population is 1 to 10, which can also be expressed as “1:10” or “10 percent”. You could rightfully claim that the town has been decimated (the colloquial use of the term “decimated” is “killed a substantial amount”; the original meaning was “killed one-tenth”). Now imagine a city of 5 million people experiencing 50 murders in a year. That city’s ratio of people murdered to population rate is 1 to 100,000, or “1:100,000” or “one-thousandth of one percent”.

Since murder ratios (as well as other crime rates) are typically small numbers — usually some teeny fraction of one percent — they are typically expressed in terms of murders per 100,000 people; this is called the murder rate. The city of 5 million with 50 murders in a year that I mentioned in the previous paragraph has a murder rate of 1 (that is, one person for every 100,000 was murdered). The village of 500 with the same number of murders has a murder rate of 10,000!

Recent Murder Rates

United States

To give you an idea of what murder rate numbers are typically like, take a look at this table of murder rates in the US spanning the years 2001 through 2004 (taken from this page). Remember, this is a chart of murder rates, meaning that the numbers here are murders per 100,000 people.

Table 1: Murder Rates for Various Regions in the U.S., 2001 – 2004
Region 2001 2002 2003 2004
South 6.7 6.8 6.9 6.6
West 5.5 5.7 5.7 5.7
Midwest 5.3 5.1 4.9 4.7
Northeast 4.2 4.1 4.2 4.2
National average 5.6 5.6 5.7 5.8

A little quick mental math reveals that the average murder rate for the entire United States for this period is 5.6.


Let’s look at the murder rates for the provinces and territories of Canada for the years 2000 through 2004 (data from Statistics Canada):

Table 2: Murder Rates for Provinces and Territories in Canada, 2000 – 2004
Province/Territory 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
  murders per 100,000 population
Canada 1.78 1.78 1.86 1.73 1.95
Newfoundland and Labrador 1.14 0.19 0.39 0.96 0.39
Prince Edward Island 2.20 1.46 0.73 0.73 0.00
Nova Scotia 1.61 0.97 0.96 0.85 1.39
New Brunswick 1.33 1.07 1.20 1.07 0.93
Quebec 2.04 1.89 1.58 1.32 1.47
Ontario 1.34 1.43 1.47 1.45 1.51
Manitoba 2.61 2.95 3.12 3.70 4.27
Saskatchewan 2.58 2.70 2.71 4.12 3.92
Alberta 1.96 2.29 2.25 2.03 2.69
British Columbia 2.10 2.06 3.06 2.26 2.67
Yukon Territory 6.57 3.32 0.00 3.27 22.43
Northwest Territories 2.47 9.80 9.64 9.48 9.34
Nunavut 10.91 10.67 6.96 10.29 13.49

Wow — when people said that it was cold in the Territories, I thought they were only talking about the temperature! More quick math reveals that the average murder rate across Canada for this period is 1.82.

The World’s Most Murderous Places

Let’s go outside the relatively safe bubble of North America and look at the ten countries with the highest murder rates in the period spanning 1998 – 2000 (data from, which got its info from the 7th United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems):

Table 3: Murder Rates in the Top Ten Countries, 1998 – 2000
Country Murder Rate
(Murders per 100,000 population)
Colombia 61.8
South Africa 49.6
Jamaica 32.4
Venezuela 31.6
Russia 20.1
Mexico 13.0
Estonia 10.7
Latvia 10.4
Lithuania 10.3
Belarus 9.8

2004 Murder Rates for Various North American Cities

Here are the 2004 murder rates for various American and Canadian cities, a listed in the Globe and Mail article. I’ve highlighted Toronto in red.

Table 4: Murder Rates for Various North American Cities, 2004
City 2004 Murder Rate
(Murders per 100,000 population)
Montreal 1.7
Toronto 1.8
Vancouver 2.6
Boston 2.6
Edmonton 3.4
Winnipeg 4.9
New York 5
Dallas 7.3
San Francisco 7.3
Washington 7.9
Houston 8.0
Los Angeles 8.6
Detroit 10.0
Baltimore 12.5
New Orleans 25.5

A minute’s worth of spreadsheet work makes this data easier to visualize (click the graph below to see it at full size):

Graph 1: Murder Rates for Various North American Cities, 2004

I’ve got to get to work, so I’ll stop here and write more later. In the meantime, if you’ve got anything to say about these statistics or the current situation in Toronto, please feel free to do so in the comments.


Drum Machine


help you get started with what is probably your first day of work this

year (at least in North America, anyway), here’s a cute Flash animation

titled Drum Machine [3.0MB; Flash file]. Enjoy!


A Very Good Question, Indeed.

Over at the blog Making Light, Patrick Neilsen Hayden asks: “Why is there an entire web page devoted to Iron Maiden album covers with Spongebob Squarepants inserted into them?”

“The starfish came / across the sea / he brought us pain / and mi-ser-yyy…”


Chanukah, Night Eight: Give the Jew Girl Toys

I haven’t yet seen Sarah Silverman’s film Jesus is Magic [the site’s audio, which plays automatically, is NOT SAFE FOR WORK!]  a “concert film” featuring her incredibly offenseively funny stand-up comedy act interspersed with her musical numbers, but I’ve heard good things about them. As the closing goodie for the final night of Chanukah, here’s Sarah’s plea to Santa Claus: a song called Give the Jew Girl Toys [3.3MB, MP3]

Happy Chanukah, and Happy New Year as well!


Manigong Bagong Taon!

That’s “Happy New Year!” in Tagalog.

I wrote this post hours before midnight and set it to automatically appear at the start of the new year. I’ll at my friend Liz’s house party at midnight, so please accept these in absentia wishes. Have a good one!

In the News

Chanukah, Night Seven: Remixing Gangsta Culture

The dirtbags behind the shirt pictured on the left have borrowed the slogan “Stop Snitchin'” from the movie of the same name (note: the reviewer to whom I link is a complete idiot). “Stop Snitchin'” is part of an underground campaign led by drug dealers and members of gangs to scare anyone from reporting their activities to the police. The subtext of the message: snitches will need stitches.

Unaware of the irony, the vendors of the shirts claim that “Stop Snitchin'” is free speech, even though that free speech is being used to
silence others. Boston mayor Thomas Menino has announced a plan to have the city confiscate the shirts from stores, and the ACLU has opposed this plan, claiming that the shirts are protected speech. In my opinion. A couple of Boston vendors, after having spoken with the Mayor, have taken the shirts off their inventories.

While I do not recommend the purchase of a “Stop Snitchin'” t-shirt, I heartily recommend the Jewish remix: “Stop Kvetchin'”! They’re on sale at CafePress.