Radley Balko writes
here’s a related statistic that’s pretty mind blowing in and of itself: According to the FBI, in 2011 there were 3991.1 arrests for every 100,000 people living in America. That means over the course of a single year, one in 25 Americans was arrested.
No, it doesn’t. This would only be true if we assumed that people do not get arrested more than once a year. The FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) specifically caution against interpreting arrest data in the way that Balko does. Indeed, they make this warning so prominently within the UCR documents that it’s hard to miss.
Apparently, Balko was caught out by readers pretty quickly, because he updated his story later the same afternoon by adding this note at the very bottom:
CLARIFICATION: A few folks have noted that the 1 in 25 figure could be misleading, given that many people are likely to have been arrested more than once. Fair enough. It’s an average. The most accurate way to phrase it would be that in 2011, there were approximately four arrests for every 100 residents.
Yes, things that are not true “could be misleading”. But after acknowledging that his “1 in 25 Americans was arrested last year” claim was inaccurate, he left it as the screaming headline of his story.