Monday, March 31, 2014

The U.K.'s most violent city is . . .

. . . not all that violent.

At least, not by American standards.

I was reminded of Glasgow's reputation yesterday by an ice cream truck. Hold that thought.

It was 43 °F at 6:30 pm, the ideal temperature to try to sell ice cream. Right?
Last April after Kate had accepted her job at the university but before we moved to Scotland a study came out ranking the U.K.'s most violent areas. The "U.K. Peace Index" study, from the Institute for Economics and Peace, ranked Glasgow as the most violent area in the U.K., ahead of London and Belfast.

It's the kind of news story that can make your mother worried about your impending move.

So I decided to compare Glasgow with the city we were leaving, Raleigh, North Carolina. To my mind, Raleigh is a fairly average U.S. city. It ranks as the 42nd largest in the U.S., and second largest in North Carolina behind Charlotte. Raleigh isn't considered by anyone to be a violent or dangerous U.S. city. If you were moving to Raleigh, no one would bat an eye about violence.

According to the U.K. Peace Index study, in 2012 Glasgow had 2.7 homicides per 100,000 people. Glasgow's population is just about 600,000 (598,830 in 2011). Thus, Glasgow had 16 homicides in 2012.

Raleigh had a 2012 population estimated at 423,172. According to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation's statistics, Raleigh had 17 homicides in 2012.

That's an eye opener. Glasgow has a population roughly 40 percent larger than Raleigh, but Glasgow had one fewer homicide.

Comparing all violent crimes (homicide, attempted murder, robberies, and assaults) is only slightly more challenging. According to Scotland's government crime bulletin, in 2012 the city of Glasgow had 39 violent crimes per 10,000 people. I extrapolate that to 390 per 100,000 people, and to 2,340 for Glasgow's population of 600,000.

In 2012, Raleigh had 1,667 violent crimes for a population of 423,000-ish. Since Glasgow's population is roughly 40 percent larger, if we add 40 percent to Raleigh's violent crime rate we come to 2,334. That's darn close to Glasgow's violent crime numbers.

Glasgow and Raleigh are almost exactly equivalent in terms of violent crime. Glasgow has slightly fewer homicides, even with a population 40 percent larger.

Thus Glasgow, as the U.K.'s most violent city, is no more violent than Raleigh, North Carolina.

But what does all this have to do with ice cream trucks?

Ice cream handed out free of charge. Why?
When we moved to Glasgow last summer, we regularly saw and/or heard an ice cream truck in the area. It has a distinctive song which is audible and echoes for quite a distance; I'd guess I can hear it from half a mile away, or more. As summer passed into autumn, we expected we'd be seeing and hearing the ice cream truck less. But it was still around nearly every day.

Then autumn turned into winter. And still the ice cream truck was making its rounds. Who was rushing outside in winter evenings to buy ice cream? We never saw anyone buying. How could the ice cream truck be making money? We joked that the ice cream truck must be selling something other than ice cream. Like drugs or some kind of contraband.

Kate made that joke in passing to a few colleagues at work. They didn't laugh. Instead, they told her to Google "ice cream wars Glasgow," and see what came up.

Apparently, some Glasgow ice cream trucks used to be (and perhaps still are) selling illegal drugs and stolen goods. The ice cream sales were/are just a front for the illegal activity. Organized crime muscled its way into the ice cream truck business, claiming routes and territory, leading to turf battles.

Rival ice cream truck drivers were engaging in almost daily intimidation and violence. Glasgow police's "Serious Chimes Squad" (get it?) was mocked for being unable to control the situation. The violence reached its apex in 1984. An ice cream truck driver, who previously had survived having his truck windows blown out by a shotgun, was the target of another so-called "frightener." Around two in the morning, as his family slept, they doused his apartment door with gasoline and set it alight. Six members of his family died in the resulting fire, including an 18-month-old child.

The entire country was outraged. A few days later, an underworld figure tipped the police that two mobsters had perpetrated the act. That underworld figure, however, had previously lied to police and came forward years after the mobsters' convictions and admitted he had fabricated his testimony. While no one seems to seriously doubt the involvement of the mobsters in the crime, the police could find very little evidence. The mobsters were convicted, and more than 20 years of appeals followed. Ultimately, their convictions were overturned and they were set free. (For further reading, do your own Google search or check out these links: here, here, and here.)

Folks seem to have a lingering sense the ice cream trucks could still be involved in shady dealings. Kate and I came to that conclusion without any background knowledge. Yesterday, however, our ice cream truck driver was a kindly older gentlemen who didn't give us any bad vibes. Perhaps our suspicions are unfounded.

Glasgow's crime history is colorful. Newsworthy. {Ed.'s note: also tasty and delicious} It inspires authors and filmmakers. But today's Glasgow is no more dangerous or violent than Raleigh, North Carolina.

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