New tool is to crime wonks what a stock app is to market watchers.

Dallas police officers in Lake Highlands’ substation. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Spinning violent crime stats is all too easy for anyone with an agenda.

But because making sense of raw numbers, rates and trends — much less collecting crime reports — is so challenging, we often are left to rely on some bias third party to interpret.

If not slanted, a lack of all the necessary data also is problematic: The FBI collects city-level murder figures in its annual Crime in the United States reports, but its numbers are at least a year old and scattered across documents that take effort to collate.

A new project “is to crime wonks what a stock app is to market watchers,” notes The Trace, which expounds on the project’s purpose.

American Violence “assembles and translates publicly available but abstruse information into an interface that doesn’t take specialized training to navigate.”

Its interactive map gathers murder rates in 82 of the 100 largest U.S. cities. It makes comparing crime rates over time — stretching back to 1990 — doable for all of us doldrums.

It’s handy for discerning short- and long-term trends.

The screenshot above, for instance, reveals where murder rates actually went down (green) and up (red) from 2016 to 2017.

(Hi, Dallas, nice job on not murdering so much over the long term.)

While there’s more to it than murder rates, and an abundance of data is at our disposal, the project proves a relatively user-friendly reference to consult if and when anyone makes questionable claims about out-of-control crime.

Patrick Sharkey, a New York University sociology professor, is leading the American Violence project, which at this point is primarily powered by the latest available homicide data from 82 of the country’s largest 100 cities, which Sharkey and crew draw directly from city police departments and other vetted sources each month.

Murder rates can be viewed over a brief stretch of time or compared over multiple periods.

Sharkey says “the latter feature can inject badly needed nuance into narratives surrounding urban violence.”

He tells The Trace, “Confusion between short-term trends and long-term trends is hugely destructive and problematic and dangerous.”

If you’ve been listening to and believing sources who say that urban crime is reaching record levels, true results could come as a surprise.

Check out another graph that shows crime decidedly declining over the long term. (Exceptions include Philly and Phoenix.)

See Dallas at No. 2.

And quite soon, we will be able to nerd-all-out, as Sharky and team apply neighborhood-specific data.

“Users will be able to zoom into individual cities and examine trends at the community level.”

Sharkey hopes this will help local leaders design and measure the impact of initiatives intended to reduce violence, thus making neighborhoods safer.