Janesville’s crime rate has been trending downward for years, and yet many people are more fearful than ever.
They worry about active shooters, sex offenders and kidnappers.
And they ignore statistics showing Janesville’s crime rate in 2018 fell to 3,012 crimes per 100,000 residents, near its lowest level in 20 years.
There’s never been a school shooting in Janesville, no Parkland-like slaughter. No bombs detonated.
What, then, makes people so fearful?
We posed this question to Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore. He believes electronic media help fuel a disconnect between reality and perception. Social media and the 24/7 news cycle magnify isolated incidents and people’s reactions to them.
“We have a circumstance where we can have a front-row, real-time view of crime occurring throughout the nation. What this allows is for crime not to be some abstract construct but a very real experience,” Moore told The Gazette.
Technology is a powerful tool for accumulating information, but many people misinterpret this information, and they are woefully inept at assessing risk.
Harvard University instructor David Ropeik has studied this phenomenon and wrote a book about it, “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts.”
His conclusions should (but probably won’t) give parents peace of mind: Nearly 50 million children attend school for about 180 days of the year, and there have been about 200 students killed since Columbine, including the deaths in Parkland, Florida, last year.
“That means the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. And since the 1990s, shootings at schools have been getting less common,” Ropeik wrote in 2018.
Think about that: 1 in 614 million. The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 303 million.
Indeed, a child is more likely to be killed by a lightning strike. The National Safety Council puts the lifetime odds of dying from lightning at 1 in 218,106.
The lifetime odds of dying from a vehicle crash are 1 in 103.
Here’s the take-home lesson for the day: Don’t fret about children getting abducted or being killed by a crazed student wielding an AK-47. Pay better attention to the road and stop texting and driving. Get a grip on the real risks in life (such as heart disease, which has a 1 in 6 chance of killing you).
We’re not saying Janesville residents should stop locking their cars and homes. Exercising caution is always advisable, but current crime trends should give people reason to feel less fearful, not more.