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Sven Berg: How lawless is Downtown Boise?

Joe Jaszewski, a Statesman photographer, took issue with some wording in a story I wrote on the Boise Police Department's move to create a Downtown district.

Specifically, Joe wasn't a fan of my statement that Downtown Boise is the source of a disproportionately high number of calls for police service. Chief Bill Bones told me that about 25 percent of calls for service come from the greater Downtown area — roughly between State Street, Broadway Avenue, Ann Morrison Park and Whitewater Park Boulevard — which is about 5 percent of Boise's land mass.

Joe pointed out that it's not land mass that makes calls; it’s people. Saying that so many calls come from such a small geographic area made it sound like people Downtown are unruly, at least in comparison with the rest of Boise.

So I checked out population numbers. It's a common misconception that Downtown Boise has a dense residential population. That's simply not the case. Lots of people go Downtown, but only a few thousand actually live there. The neighborhoods close to Downtown — East End, North End, etc. — are pretty dense.

With the help of the city's planning staff, I estimated the population within the expected Downtown police district boundaries is 12,258. Here's how I came up with that number: Block-by-block census numbers from 2010 show a population of 11,272 in the same area. I added the estimated growth percentage of Boise between 2010 and 2015 to come up with 12,258. Not perfect science, but it gives us a fairly reliable number to work with.

The Downtown district accounts for about 5.5 percent of the city's overall population. So I win, right? People who live in the district must be five times more lawless than people who live on the Bench, the Foothills, Northwest Boise, etc. Take that, Joe!

But Joe was right. He might not have known the population numbers of Downtown Boise, but he was correct about the fundamental point: Lots of calls for service come from Downtown because lots of people go there. They go to bars, hang out in parks, eat at restaurants, tour museums, attend shows and then go home.

All of that milling around is bound to cause some situations that require law enforcement response, whether it's fights, wrecks, dehydration, injuries or something else.

I don't have exact numbers of how many people go Downtown or how much time they spend there, so I can't do a good analysis of whether Downtown is a breeding ground for trouble. It seems like you'd need to calculate person-hours (number of people who visit or live in Downtown multiplied by the average number of hours they spend there). Divide the number of person-hours by the number of police calls Downtown and you'd come up with a metric of how law-abiding Downtowners are. Of course, you'd also need to subtract Downtown person-hours from places where visitors live to weight this number correctly. If somebody has any of this data, please email me at sberg@IdahoStatesman.com.

Short of any reliable calculation, though, I have to rely on my experience. I know lots of people go Downtown because I've seen it. I doubt they suddenly become scofflaws just because they're surrounded by big buildings.

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