Monthly Archives: December 2014

analysis: homicide

On Homicide in the Greater Boston Area

I know someone who doesn’t feel safe taking public transit or walking alone at night. I feel perfectly safe doing these things and, generally, prefer them over cabs. Maybe I lack the visceral fear some people develop as a result of being catcalled within the city. Maybe I grew up in a (more) dangerous place, and am left generally unfazed by suburban feel of Camberville. Regardless of the reason, I don’t worry about being spontaneously raped, mugged, or shot while out.

This is about homicide.

Homicide refers to the killing of a human–as manslaughter or murder. It also includes “justifiable killings.” The FBI only includes non-negligent killings and murder.


National rates are gathered from CIUS (Crime in the US, link below), which is maintained by the FBI, and the Disaster Center. The CIUS national numbers are from 2011 and 2012, the CIUS state numbers are from 2012 and 2013. Disaster Center numbers are from 2012 and 2013.

Homicide – National

Source Years Population per 100k total
CIUS 2011 311,587,816 4.7 14,661
CIUS 2012 313,914,040 4.7 14,827
Disaster Center 2012 313,873,685 4.7 14,752
Disaster Center 2013 316,128,839 4.5 14,196


For these numbers, I took the national rate per 100k (homicides per 100k people), and estimated based on the population [(population/100,000)*homicides per 100k] The CIUS number comes from only urban areas within MA. The Disaster Center numbers are from the entire state.

MA – Estimates Based on National Averages

Source Years Population per 100k total (estimated)
CIUS* 2012 1,183,933 4.7 55.64
CIUS* 2013 1,192,220 4.7 56.03
Disaster Center 2012 6,645,303 4.7 312.33
Disaster Center 2013 6,692,824 4.5 301.18

MA – Actual

Source Years Population per 100k total
CIUS* 2012 1,183,933 3.04** 36
CIUS* 2013 1,192,220 3.61** 43^
Disaster Center 2012 6,645,303 1.82** 121
Disaster Center 2013 6,692,824 2.05** 137

*Urban areas include Boston, Cambridge, Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester

**Maths done by me. For generating the per 100k, when the number was [(population/total homicides)*100,000].

^Four of these (9.3%) are related to the Boston Marathon Bombings.

We’re doing pretty well compared to the national average.

Local Numbers

These are about Boston, Cambridge, and Somverille. There are gaps. I left open the population totals (when they were not listed on the corresponding website) because I don’t know where they got their numbers from and, as you can see, their other numbers differ.

Boston, Cambridge, Somerville – Estimates Assuming National Rates

Source Years Population per 100k total
City Data – Boston 2011 N/A 4.7 N/A
City Data – Boston 2012 636,479 4.7 29.91
City Data – Cambridge 2011 N/A 4.7 N/A
City Data – Cambridge 2012 106,471 4.7 5.00
City Data – Somerville 2011 N/A 4.7 N/A
City Data – Somerville 2012 77,104 4.7 3.62
CIUS – Boston 2011 630,648 4.7 28.38
CIUS – Boston 2012 N/A 4.7 N/A
CIUS – Cambridge 2011 106,981 4.7 5.03
CIUS – Cambridge 2012 N/A 4.7 N/A

Boston, Cambridge, Somerville – Actual

Source Years Population per 100k total
City Data – Boston 2011 N/A 10.1 63
City Data – Boston 2012 636,479 9 57
City Data – Cambridge 2011 N/A 4.7 5
City Data – Cambridge 2012 106,471 0.9 1
City Data – Somerville 2011 N/A 0 0
City Data – Somerville 2012 77,104 0 0
CIUS – Boston 2011 630,648 3.65** 23
CIUS – Boston 2012 N/A N/A N/A
CIUS – Cambridge 2011 106,981 0.93** 1
CIUS – Cambridge 2012 N/A N/A N/A

**Maths done by me, see above.

Thoughts, Additional Table, Disclaimers, etc

City Data and CIUS have really radically different numbers. City Data does provide a disclaimer saying that their information may be neither accurate nor timely. They suggest using “at your own risk.” Comparing Disaster Center and CIUS is not really worthwhile, as they consider different populations.

It’s really sad that Boston’s crime rates are higher than Camberville’s.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) has a program called National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) This is a very specific type of reporting system, which provides very different data than the above. Starting in 2011, data previously managed by UCR was replaced with NIBRS.

Homicides: NIBRS, UCR

Source Years Population Homicides
NIBRS 2013 316,128,839 3,465
UCR (National) 2010 308,745,538 14,748
UCR (MA) 2010 6,547,629 210
UCR (Boston) 2010 617,594 73
UCR (Cambridge) 2010 105,162 0
UCR (Somerville) 2010 75,754 0

In their pamphlet, NIBRS says that only 19% of homicides in 2013 were committed by a stranger. In terms of a random person killing me on the street, I’m not worried. In Camberville, over the past few years, there was only one stranger on stranger homicide and it was far beyond what one worries about when they think about being killed randomly.

Given infinite time and resources, it would be interesting to pull up each of the specific cases of homicide in Camberville (which is very doable).

I don’t know anything about statistics beyond folk knowledge and the things you learn in bio lab and from your statistician friends. That is to say: more than the average person on the average (i.e. non-Camberville) street, but not really a lot. My maths are based on what I know: public education and intuition. I am happy to receive criticism, advice, and corrections.

I know that there are lots of crimes other than homicides that are problems. Sexual assault is huge. Writing about homicide took me so long, I decided to shelve sexual assault until a possible future.


CIUS – National is maintained by the FBI. They use the term “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter.”


Disaster Center uses the term “murder.”

Disaster Center – National

Disaster Center – MA

City Data uses the term “murder.”

City Data – Boston

City Data – Cambridge

City Data – Somerville

Uniform Crime Reporting

(FS) Purpose

Emacs is a text editor used for everything from editing text to writing code to organizing one’s entire life. It’s an older piece of software–originally written in 1976. It’s strength comes from extensibility–you can make emacs do whatever you want if you have the patience, time, and skills. Another way to word this is that it’s super crunchy and hard to use. It’s hard to save files, it’s hard to copy and paste, and it’s hard to become involved. One emacs hacker/user I know said:

…for social and technical reasons contributing to the project is hard and some people view this as a good thing and that’s really shitty.

My criticisms of FLOSS projects have a lot to do with difficulties in install processes, usability, and accessibility (a11y). Inaccessible software is bad. Software that is hard to use is bad. Software that is hard to install is bad.

(I will note that, from this perspective, all text editors are bad.)

Thinking about free software development and usability from a business perspective begs up the question: What does the customer want? The customer for a community is a contributor–the customer for an application, operating system, package is the person installing it. Looking at emacs as a case study, I recently found myself asking if it needs to be accessible and easy. I am not the natural user for emacs. I don’t use it now. Why is it important for it to cater to my needs?

Being able to code is important. So is being able to change a flat tire, swim, sharpen a kitchen knife, unclog a toilet, and understand the basics of how your hot water heater works so that if the pilot light ever goes out, you know what to do or at least how to figure out why your shower is cold.

Initiatives like Hour of Code are important because computers need to be normalized. Not everyone needs to be a developer, but everyone does need to know the basics of how computers work. It is not–and should not–be acceptable to say (with pride even) that you don’t know how computers work, what code is like.

It is not the job of emacs and the community to make sure I can use it to code–or use it at all. However, it should be the imperative of the community to make sure I know and understand the fundamentals of technology–this includes the basics of how computers actually do things. From a perspective of self-preservation, keeping technology in a black box is useful to the technical. As long as computers are not only difficult, but also scary, I need them. But, the fact is, I am going to need them anyway because I do not want to become an expert. I’d rather be an expert at growing delicious peppers, making an asplenium flourish, and identifying trees by their smell.

Technologists and hackers have made their way to where they are, in some cases, through trials by fire. They have fought against communities, proven themselves, and hacked their way through impenetrable code and processes in order to become a member of the club. They should have the tools they want. They should be able to have fun and be kind of elitist in their in-group the same way I should be allowed to have fun and be kind of elitist about building a bike, knowing Hume, and having a favorite designer in any given season of Project Runway. But, none of those things should be scary. The mentality that a project being hard is a good thing is not just mean, but detrimental and dangerous.