Fact Check: Booze Crime Blunders
Statement: Pacific Beach had “an alcohol-related crime rate 1,700 percent above city average and nearly 600 arrests last year for drunken driving,” the Union-Tribune reported Jan. 6.
Analysis: A group of Pacific Beach residents wants the city to create a special permit for businesses that sell alcohol in their neighborhood to give the city greater power to crack down on alcohol-related nuisances.
In a story about the residents’ renewed advocacy, the Union-Tribune cited two crime statistics highlighting the kind of nuisances residents want to stop: Nearly 600 arrests in Pacific Beach for drunken driving last year and an alcohol-related crime rate that far exceeds the city average.
But neither statistic accurately reflects reality.
Police reported 502 drunken driving arrests in Pacific Beach between January and November last year and said they don’t know whether the annual total came near 600 since it’s still being calculated.
The second statistic — a citywide comparison of alcohol-related crime — cherry-picked one extreme data point about a tiny, commercial section of Pacific Beach and said it described the entire neighborhood.
Police calculated the statistic by comparing alcohol-related crimes by census tract, a smaller slice of area that doesn’t perfectly follow neighborhood boundaries. The area within Pacific Beach’s boundaries includes six different tracts and parts of three more.
In one section on the western edge of Pacific Beach, around Garnet Avenue’s popular bars, police counted 1,083 crimes such as drunk in public, DUI, open containers and drinking as a minor. That is indeed 1,743 percent higher than the citywide average in 2009.
But those few blocks constitute just a fraction of Pacific Beach.
Pacific Beach does stand out when it comes to alcohol-related crimes, but not nearly to the degree the Union-Tribune described. The average tract in Pacific Beach had 231 alcohol-related crimes — about 372 percent higher than the citywide average in 2009.
The map below shows how it compared to other neighborhoods where police reported the most alcohol-related crimes in 2009.
Since both statistics inaccurately described crime data that’s currently available, we’ve called the statement False.
The Union-Tribune’s story originally said Pacific Beach’s crime rate is 1,700 percent above the city average, which is also false. It added the words “alcohol-related” the next day, without acknowledging the change on its website or publishing a correction online.
But the newspaper did correct its story Tuesday morning after we notified it that this Fact Check was being published. It now specifies which section of Pacific Beach the 1,700 percent statistic described.
If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.