Locals react to online 'rankings'

Staff Writer

Safest city in Mississippi? There's a ranking for that, in fact, there are several. Dumbest city? Drunkest city? Most Boring City? Best City to Live In?

In short, if it can be ranked, someone will rank it.

But do people really pay any attention to them? Not really, according to an unscientific poll by the Daily Times Leader. Most of the surveys and rankings that come out each year, mostly online, are based at least partly in fact. Others throw in their own "evaluation," "numbers crunching" and subjective thoughts to come up with their lists. Many include a disclaimer at the start reminding readers the rankings are "infotainment."

"Don't lose your cool," one tells readers who come across the site and its lists.

Interestingly, West Point this week was named the state's 10th Safest City in a ranking compiled by SafeHome.org.

Oxford was fourth and Starkville eighth, according to the list which based its findings on the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

SafeHome says West Point has a safety score of 80.48 with 46 violent crimes in 2015, which was down 22 percent, and 306 property crimes, which was up 1.4 percent. With a population of 11,048, the rating says the city has one police officer for every 394 residents.

By contrast, Oxford had a safety score -- a combination of population, violent crimes and property crimes -- of 86.92 while Starkville's was 78.42. Starkville had 46 violent crimes, down .6 percent and 857 theft-related crimes, up 2.2 percent.

Petal, Brandon and Madison were the three safest cities in the state, according to the online site, which represents the alarm industry.

Interestingly, that's not the only survey or ranking listing safe cities.

One by Safewise.com has Oxford seventh, West Point 10th and Starkville 14th. It also is based on FBI data.

While they come up with different listings, they and others note the South averages about 32 crimes per 1,000 people while the safest cities in Mississippi average 25 crimes or less per 1,000 people.

But those two aren't all.

Niche.com offers a list that doesn't have West Point on it at all but does have Oxford at ninth and Starkville among the top 20.

Homesnacks.com offers a list with Oxford at 10th. Starkville and West Point aren't anywhere to be found.

Several factors help explain some of the differences. Not every town sends its numbers each year to the FBI for the annual report. Combine that with different ratings looking at different years and numbers can be all over the map.

But do people care?

"Really? Seventh? I guess that's good. But it's not something I go looking at or even think about," said Clay County resident Angela Arden as she pumped gas Tuesday. "I'm not going to move one way or the other."

"No, don't really care. I'm sure there are all kinds of numbers out there. You can make a number say what you want," noted Bill Stanford when asked if the numbers made any difference to him.

Of 15 people interviewed by the DTL, 12 said the numbers were of no consequence. But some want to shout it from the rooftops.

"That's fun. We should tell people that," Clay County resident Susan Barnes said.

Some economic development and real estate professionals take a more pragmatic approach.

"I don't really pay any attention to them. Turns out many of them are an advertising company. We’ve been on both the Worst Places to Live and the Best Places to Live in Mississippi," West Point-Clay County Growth Alliance Director Lisa Klutts noted. "Do good things every day and people will know what kind of town you have. We certainly do."

Even real estate people are pragmatic.

"You can use the numbers sometimes to promote a community or even a neighborhood, but most people don't pay any attention to ratings like that. They are more interested in what the people they work with or go to church with think," explained Colin Krieger, an agent with ReMax Properties in Starkville and Columbus. "More than anything, they are fun to talk about at a cocktail party or to kid your friends about."

So with that in mind, pick a topic and someone has a list.

"Drunkest" towns in Mississippi? Homesnacks.com puts Oxford second, Starkville fifth, Columbus sixth and Corinth ninth.

Speaking of Corinth, it comes in first on Homesnacks.com's "Biggest Redneck Cities" in the state. New Albany is second, Pontotoc fifth, Booneville seventh and Ripley eighth. Iuka and Baldwyn make the "Most Boring" list.

But Homesnacks.com doesn't include any city in Northeast Mississippi on its "Best Places" in the state to live.

When told that, Clay County resident Bert Andrews summed up what many people think.

"Some of these folks don't really know anything, so I don't put much stock in them."