Police say West 7th is Fort Worth’s safest hot spot. The data shows something else

In Reality Check stories, Star-Telegram journalists dig deeper into questions over facts, consequences and accountability. Read more. Story idea? RealityCheck@star-telegram.com.

“Sometimes the perception of crime is not necessarily the reality.” That was how Executive Assistant Police Chief Robert Alldredge introduced statistics comparing crime rates in the West 7th entertainment district to other similar nightlife hot spots at a City Council work session on April 16.

He presented the data as part of the department’s new plan to increase public safety in West 7th in the wake of three shootings in the area in the last eight months, two of which were fatal.

But while police say crime is down in West 7th, analysis by criminal justice experts and the Star-Telegram’s reporting on the issue — as well as the presentation’s own data for the most violent crime of all — suggest that the area is not as relatively safe as Alldredge intended to convey.

Furthermore, the very venue in which the data was presented raises questions about the police department’s messaging, according to TCU criminal justice professor Johnny Nhan, who also serves as a reserve Fort Worth police officer and patrols about once a week.

“There is an argument to be made that the police are sending contradictory messages: 1.) Crime is high there and justifies the extra resources and 2.) Crime is low there so the police are doing a good job,” Nhan wrote in an email exchange.

Patrolling West 7th on busy nights is not a desirable assignment, Nhan said, and most officers he speaks with try to avoid it.

The data Alldredge presented was broken down into four types of violent crime: robbery, aggravated assault, sex crimes and murder and manslaughter.

The numbers for West 7th were compared to the Stockyards, downtown and what was presented as the Near Southside. The date range was March 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024.

The numbers for West 7th were lower in all of those categories except for one: murder and manslaughter. The neighborhood tallied two in that box, while the Stockyards and Near Southside each had one and downtown had zero.

The two in the West 7th column were both murderscaused by gunfire. The nature of the cases in the Stockyards and Near Southside was unclear.

The police department did not respond to questions seeking clarification on this and other issues with the data.

A Star-Telegram analysis of data provided by the city published in late March found that West 7th saw more crime — about 40% — than the city’s other entertainment districts.

That study spanned from Jan. 1, 2023, to Mar. 1, 2024, but another difference between the two data sets stood out more clearly. The Star-Telegram’s data was broken down into five entertainment districts, breaking what the police defined as Near Southside into two: Magnolia and South Main.

Still, those districts combined did not top the West 7th numbers in the data provided to the Star-Telegram.

The city data showed that West 7th led its peer districts in assaults, aggravated assaults and carjackings, and that it was tied with the downtown area for robbery. West 7th had far more weapons charges than any other district with 72. The Stockyards had four, Magnolia two and downtown one.

A closer look at the police’s study raises questions about the department’s methodology for collecting the data. A map presented by Alldredge shows that the area the study defined for the West 7th district is much smaller than the comparison districts.

The police study limited the data pulled primarily to blocks with bars and nightclubs, an area totaling 85.63 acres. The Near Southside area studied, however, was more than nine times larger, more than 778 acres, and included both the Magnolia and South Main entertainment districts as well as much more of the neighborhood that does not attract partygoers.

The area defined as downtown measured nearly 575 acres and that of the Stockyards was more than 211 acres.

Council member Elizabeth Beck, whose district includes West 7th, noted the difference in the study area sizes during the work session, arguing that police have more people to deal with in a smaller area in West 7th. However, the argument would assume that people barhopping on South Main or Magnolia arguably are roaming the rest of the 778 acres included the police’s Near Southside area.

Beck did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Such studies take more into account than direct geographical comparisons, but the disparity in the sizes of the areas and the decision to include two entertainment districts in the Near Southside could be problematic, according to the criminal justice professors consulted by the Star-Telegram.

“From strictly a research point of view, this could be a problem depending on the research question,” said George Eicheinberg, assistant chair of Tarleton State University’s criminal justice department, in an email exchange.

Everything from the demographics of the area to the demographics of the clientele it attracts to the density of bars and the types of services provided — full meal or alcohol-only, for example — have to be factored in, as well, he said.

Both Eichenberg and Nhan agreed that numbers never tell the whole story.

“This issue cannot be based on simply statistics and research methodology as there are numerous other concerns as important or more important than pure crime data,” Eichenberg said.

In addition to demographics, urban design and population density, he mentioned one other important factor that should be considered when analyzing the police’s data: “Never forget that policing is inherently political.”