Wednesday, January 03, 2007

P-I Report on Homicides in Seattle

Yesterday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an article entitled "Homicides on Rise in Seattle."

Murder is horrible. Murder is also rare.

As a personal safety instructor/consultant, I field questions on assault risks. Invariably the likelihood of homicide arises. I emphasize the infrequent incidence rate and low risk factors of the vast majority of my clients. We identify and practice de-escalation skills and last-resort tactics in some settings. But I also discuss the role of the media. Stories in which there's a clear and often sympathetic victim and a tragic or sinister perpetrator form a critical part of our national mythology. We buy them, often uncritically. And we focus on them, to the detriment of other important issues. I encourage my clients to look a little deeper into the story to discern the "truth," not about the reported incident but about media patterns and cultural motifs, and how their acceptance influences their own safety choices.

Accurate information is key to accurate risk assessment. Calling something a "trend" is labeling the type of information. I find it difficult to call the increased number of killings from last year to this a "trend" yet. While the number of homicides increased, there are other factors. For example, how does it relate to Seattle's increased population? Or how do you count the Capitol Hill shooting in March where seven people died yet there was one gunman?

Imagine how the story would read if the headline was "Despite Slight Increase in Number, Homicide Rate in Seattle Remains Low."

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