Rank and Bile 

Most dangerous list irks North Chuck police chief

A few weeks back Entertainment Weekly and TV Land unveiled their list of the greatest television icons of all time. Late night king Johnny Carson came out on top, and frankly, it's exactly where he deserves to be ... at least for now.

Unlike classic sitcoms like I Love Lucy or pop-culture juggernauts like Star Trek, talk shows aren't known for their replay value. Yes, there may be a sketch here or there or a particularly funny blooper, but folks don't typically tune in to a 35-year-old episode of The Merv Griffin Show. Give it another 10 years and the king of comedy is sure to be overthrown. When it comes down to it, these rankings aren't based on anything quantifiable.

The same can't be said of the C.Q. Press's Most Dangerous Cities list. It's based on things you can count — the number of murders, rapes, assaults, robberies, etc. According to that list, North Charleston ranks a very rank No. 7, putting it in the company of noted crime heavyweights like Detroit (No. 1) and Oakland (No. 4). But to hear it from North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt, the list is as bogus as the ill-fated sequel to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

In one local report after another, the chief dismisses the rankings, with methods both disingenuous (denying he pays attention to such things) and xenophobic (we don't need a bunch of Yankees telling us we got a crime problem). However, Zumalt has one dismissal that trumps all others. In a WCIV report, Zumalt says, "In South Carolina, we're No. 21 for cities in our state. This study is saying we're No. 7. It's ludicrous."

No, comparing apples to oranges is. See, North Chuck's 21st spot on the one list — the one comparing all South Carolina cities no matter how small —and the other — the C.Q. Press study including only cities over 75,000 people — aren't at odds. They may measure the same thing, but their survey groups are totally different.

A Post & Courier report takes Zumalt's defense to truly ridiculous lengths: "By one measure, North Charleston ranked as the seventh most dangerous U.S. city in 2006. By another, the Charleston-North Charleston metro region area was the 20th most dangerous in the country ...What's going on?"

What's going on? Well, that's a question the P&C attempts to answer: "Much of the discrepancy between the city and metro-area numbers are because they compare different things: newer bedroom communities to older urban areas and touristy beach communities."

Actually, the problem here is that the surveys compare different population groups — people inhabiting cities and people living in metropolitan areas. In the case of the Charleston metro area, we've got all of Charleston, Berekley, and Dorchester counties to consider. In the other survey, North Charleston stands alone like a beauty pageant contestant in the spotlight fumbling a question about why Johnny can't find Canada on a map.

While Zumalt tries to ease the fears of North Charleston residents with hollow words ("I want citizens out there to know not to be afraid. This isn't a reflection on our community," according to WCSC) his own words in that same report betray him: "We've increased our arrests every year. We filled the county jail."

Maybe Zumalt momentarily forgot that cops don't arrest folks who haven't committed crimes.

An increase in the number of arrests, coupled with a packed jail, more than suggest that something is rotten in North Charleston and it's not just the smell from the MeadWestvaco paper mill.


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