Gene Balk's recent columns on crime perceptions, realities and trends across Seattle neighborhoods got a lot of readers talking – and contacting him with their opinions. People are incredibly passionate about the topic, he says.

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Seattle Times data columnist Gene Balk stirred debate recently when he took a closer look at crime perceptions and realities in Seattle neighborhoods and how crime rates are changing across the city.

For Episode 84 of The Overcast, the Seattle Times weekly news and politics podcast, Balk sits down with hosts Daniel Beekman of The Times and Simone Alicea of KNKX 88.5 to sort it all out.

Balk says he first used the results of a survey on public safety conducted by Seattle University’s Department of Criminal Justice, plus crime data and Census population estimates, to compare fear of crime with crime rates.

In some neighborhoods, such as Magnolia, fear of crime is higher than average and the crime rate is lower than average. When Balk asked a professor who worked on the survey about that, she mentioned a phenomenon known as “mean world syndrome” – the perception that the world is a much more dangerous place than it actually is.

Reading or watching a lot of news or spending a lot of time on websites like, where neighbors frequently post about crime, can contribute to the phenomenon, the professor said.

Balk received a ton of feedback via email and social media, including people suggesting that increases in crime over time could be part of the picture, so he decided to write a second column.

“One thing that a number of people who contacted me about the column asked about was, ‘You know, maybe in Magnolia or North Ballard, the crime rate is lower than in other parts of Seattle, but the perception here is that things have gotten a lot worse,'” he says.

When Balk compared crime rates at the beginning of the decade to recent rates, an interesting pattern emerged. In most North Seattle neighborhoods, the rates have increased, while in most South Seattle neighborhoods, the rates have decreased.

There’s plenty to chew on with this topic, and City Council members are reviewing the public-safety survey.

The episode was recorded at the Seattle studios of public radio KNKX 88.5 FM.

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