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15 Dec, 2021 14:46

Crime stats are racist, real estate wizards argue

Crime stats are racist, real estate wizards argue

Two of America’s largest real estate search engines have removed neighborhood crime data from their websites. While prospective buyers use this data to find safe addresses to live in, the companies involved say it’s racist.

Until this week, buyers searching for a new home on Realtor.com could look at any number of informative map layers about their prospective new neighborhoods, from availability of public transport to public school ratings, or a heat map showing reported crimes.

However, in a company update posted on Monday, Realtor CEO David Doctorow announced that the crime statistics layer has been removed, in an effort to “level the playing field” and “reimagine how we integrate safety data.” These crime statistics, Doctorow continued, “unfairly penalize communities of color.”

Doctorow’s statement may read like an admission that elevated crime is part and parcel of life in a minority neighborhood, and that implication is borne out by the FBI’s own crime statistics, which show that despite making up around 13% of the US population, African Americans are arrested for more than half of the country’s murders and 52% of its robberies.

The crime statistics were referenced in a separate post on Monday by Christian Taubman, chief growth officer of Redfin, a rival real estate platform. Taubman said Redfin staff had discussed whether to include crime data on their search engine, but chose not to as crime stats are supposedly inaccurate, and “there’s too great a risk of this inaccuracy reinforcing racial bias.”

Taubman argued that, as “most crimes in the US go unreported” and many of those reported crimes go unsolved, the FBI’s statistics may be skewed. The FBI’s figures are echoed in the 2019 National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which found that black Americans were the offenders in a quarter of all reported violent crimes. Taubman dismissed this survey too, arguing that there may have been “racial bias” in the data.

“In the 2019 survey, people reporting crimes were more likely to describe their offender as young, male, and Black than would be expected given the representation of those groups in the population,” Taubman wrote. “In this case we’re confident that the crime data that are available today ought not to be on Redfin or any other real estate site.”

The simultaneous announcements by Realtor and Redfin were slated online. “When they argue that crime data are racist they're also saying that ‘crime is something that is all about black people,’” one commenter wrote. “It's a splendid — and racist — self-own.”