Does Tucson Deserve Similar Grades as Baltimore?

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What comes to mind when you think of Baltimore?

What comes to my mind is high crime, high poverty, widespread blight, a corrupt one-party government, and the TV series “The Wire,” which is set in Baltimore.

What comes to mind when you think of my adopted hometown of Tucson?

What comes to my mind is dismay that the popular website AreaVibes.com rates Tucson about the same as it rates Baltimore, based on published demographics. The scores are important because a lot of people and companies go to the site to compare cities in deciding where to live and do business.

Below are the grades that AreaVibes gives to the two cities.

Tucson Baltimore
Crime F F
Employment F  D-
Schools F F
Housing  C- C
Cost of Living  B-  C-
Amenities  A+  A+

Something is not right with the above.

Sure, Tucson suffers from not being a port city or being on a navigable river. Sure, Tucson was a dusty, remote outpost when Baltimore was a major industrial and cultural center. Sure, Tucson has suffered from decades of shortsighted one-party government. Sure, Tucson has a history of provincialism and hostility to big business.  And sure, because of these factors, Tucson’s poverty rate of 21.9% is twice the national average and slightly above Baltimore’s rate of 21.2%.

But come on! Is it right to given Tucson similar grades as Baltimore?

Well, it doesn’t seem right to give it the same grade as Baltimore in crime.

Take the worst crime:  homicides. Tucson has 7.3 homicides per 100,000 residents, which, granted, is above the national average of 5.0. But Baltimore has 56 homicides per 100,000 residents or more than seven times as many as Tucson.

Baltimore’s homicide rate is more than twice as high as the 24.8 in Mexico and almost as high as the 61.8 in El Salvador, which is the top-ranking country in homicides.

Since 2011, nearly 3,000 Baltimoreans have been murdered. That comes to one of every 200 city residents over that period.

At the link, you can find details of the corruption and botched policing efforts in Baltimore, including its misapplication of the policing concept known as Broken Windows policing, which resulted in over 110,000 people being arrested in Baltimore in 2005. Now, the city is cutting funding for its police department.

Compared to Tucson’s police department, Baltimore’s police department appears to have some fat.

The City of Tucson and the City of Baltimore have about the same populations (520,116 versus 593,490). But Tucson has only 1,466 police employees (including 853 officers) while Baltimore has 3,900 police employees (including an unknown number of officers).

It is felt in some local quarters that the Tucson Police Department is underfunded and understaffed, but it would appear that it is much more effective in controlling crime than the Baltimore Police Department, at least relative to homicides.

Other crimes are another matter. For example, Tucson’s burglary rate is the same as Baltimore’s, which probably explains why so many Tucson residences and businesses have security bars on their doors and windows.

The touchy subject of race comes into play when comparing crime rates, as does the percent of young men without a dad in the household.

It’s a sad fact that, on average, blacks have the highest crime rates, which means that a city with more blacks will tend to have higher crime rates. That seems to be the case for Baltimore.

Baltimore is 62.4% black, 27.5% non-Hispanic white, and 18.5% Hispanic.  Tucson is 5.2% black, 43.9% non-Hispanic white, and 43.6% Hispanic. Tragically, approximately 95% of homicide victims and murderers in Baltimore are black.

The illicit drug trade and the dubious War on Drugs also come into play. Clearly, being close to the Mexico/U.S. border, Tucson has a drug trafficking problem; but comparisons to Baltimore are hard to come by.

Both Tucson and Baltimore would look better on such websites as AreaVibes if they were to annex the surrounding wealthier and safer suburbs, as many cities have. Statistically speaking, their crime and poverty rates would drop, and their school test scores would rise.

This is especially true for Baltimore because its suburbs are wealthier than Tucson’s. For example, the median household income in Baltimore County is $76,866, versus $53,379 for Pima County, which is the county where the City of Tucson is located. Income reaches the stratosphere for the entire metro area of Baltimore, a metro area encompassing 2.3 million people and several counties, versus one county and 1.08 million people for metro Tucson.

In any event, do you think that Tucson deserves the grades given to it by AreaVibes?

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