South Sacto kidnapping case makes it hard to be rational about crime stats

Curse of the monkey’s tail.

Cedric Lain Holland might be a parent’s worst nightmare.

On May 11, Holland allegedly drove up beside a mother and her 7-year-old daughter walking along a street in south Sacramento, snatched the girl and forced her into his trunk. The victim was able to escape when the trunk opened and she leaped out, authorities said.

Sheriff’s detectives arrested Holland six days later at his home, which was two miles away from the scene of the crime.

Holland was arraigned May 20 in Sacramento Superior Court on felony counts of kidnapping and annoying a child. If convicted of simply the first, he could go away for life. He was scheduled for a bail review hearing and settlement conference on June 5.

But last month’s broad-daylight kidnapping, which authorities rightly called “brazen,” may have already ruined every Sacramento kid’s summer.

The media has a bad habit of debasing itself in tragedy porn stories that only fuel today’s helicopter parents. Especially stories that make it seem like an evil child abductor is lurking around every corner. There’s even a whole website devoted to calming anxious parents down with, you know, actual facts and figures. The website, Free Range Kids, actually says it’s statistically safe for a parent to leave his or her child with a total stranger.

Now, I haven’t vetted Free Range’s data–the most recent kidnapping stats they cite are from 1999–but the FBI says there has been an 18.2 percent decline in missing person reports between 2006 and 2010, the most recent year that data is available. (Caution: I did the math myself, so you may want to check for yourself.)

There were 692,944 missing person reports entered in 2010. Juveniles made up 510,207 of those reports, which is almost 74 percent. That may sound like a lot, but very few missing person reports are categorized as involuntary. In 2010, only 19,853 met the FBI’s threshhold for abductions, kidnappings and the like. That’s less than 3 percent.

Which is a long way of saying that last month’s incident in south Sacramento makes it difficult to counsel rational thought. Sure, Free Range Kids might be statistically right in saying stranger danger is an overhyped cable news myth, but try telling that to the mother of that brave kid, whose quick thinking and detailed description led to Holland’s arrest.

Her alleged brush with Holland, widely reported as it was, also probably sparked a local rush on kid keepers and toddler tethers. While a convicted sex offender may have done the crime, it’s the kids who will be doing the time—indoors.