Friday, June 22, 2012

Crime statistics - less than trustworthy?


There's a very interesting article over at PoliceOne discussing how, in many jurisdictions, crimes are under-reported, wrongly recorded, and generally 'fudged' for political reasons.  Here's an excerpt.

Crime data collection, analysis, and pinpointed response help law enforcement agencies fight crime. CompStat is one of the best known such tools for police.

First implemented in New York City in the 1990s, it was intended to map crime and identify problems. NYPD execs would meet with local precinct commanders to discuss the problems and devise strategies and tactics to reduce crime in their assigned area. Resources were then deployed as planned. The regular meetings guaranteed fierce follow-up.

In an effort to demonstrate greater accountability to the citizens CompStat was adopted by many police agencies (although sometimes under a different name, such as ComStat, Citistat, StateStat, Powertrac, FastTrack) ... by the year 2000, more than a third of agencies with 100 or more swern officers reported implementing a “CompStat-like” program.

What CompStat didn’t anticipate is what Robert Zink, Recording Secretary for NYPD’s police union, called the ‘fudge factor’ — the manipulation of Compstat data to make it falsely appear that crime rates have been reduced. Here’s just a sampling:

  1. In 1996, there was a concerted effort to conceal the magnitude of crime in Atlanta during the Summer Olympics selection process. An audit in 2003 revealed that 22,000 crimes were left out of reports for the previous year.
  2. In 1998, Philadelphia PD was the subject of a DOJ investigation into under-reporting crime. The practice endured, top commanders said, because favorable statistics made higher-ups happy and helped careers.
  3. In April 2000 U.S. News and World Report stated that “facing political heat to cut crime in the city, investigators in the [Philadelphia] PD Sex Crime Unit sat on (thousands of) reports of rapes and other sexual assaults.” ...
  4. In 2003, four New Orleans officers and a district commander were fired for downgrading hundreds of serious crimes to “miscellaneous incidents.” ...
  5. In 2004, the NYPD police unions publicly charged that the department had cooked the books to lower crime stats and called on its members to share evidence of crimes being downgraded. ...
  6. In 2005, four Broward County Deputy Sheriffs were fired for fudging crime stats. Denying any knowledge, the Sheriff used the false stats to convince municipalities to scrap their own police departments and contract with the BSO. He also used the stats in his political rise. ...
  7. In 2010, more than half of 309 retired NYPD officers admitted to fudging crime stats ... They reported heavy pressure from higher-ups to reduce felonies to misdemeanors or to not report crimes at all to make the numbers look prettier.


There's more at the link.

I highly recommend clicking over to PoliceOne and reading the entire report.  It provides very important insight into a problem that directly and immediately affects your own securityIf you don't know the true dimensions and nature of the crime problem in your area, how will you know whether or not to take additional precautions, or be prepared to deal with specific types of crime?

Food for thought . . .

Peter

7 comments:

Chris Hugh said...

You probably need to look at the DOJ Crime Victimization Surveys to get accurate numbers.

Will Brown said...

Passing observation; given recent reporting on DOJ officialdom and honest statements from same, their reputation for accuracy may deserve more stringent question.

My main point, however, is to wonder how such crime statistic manipulation calls into question the common-of-late assertion among gun writers (blog or otherwise) that "more guns = less crime"? I wouldn't like to see the arguments against lawful gun ownership appear to gain credence because law enforcement can't seem to do their work honestly.

Maybe we gun owners should further consider our reasoning and justifications in advancing our arguments in support of our beliefs. Looks like one of our major metrics just failed.

Peter said...

@Will Brown: Interesting point! I hadn't thought about that. Certainly the DOJ figures are based on those reported by local jurisdictions, so they'll be affected by such jiggery-pokery.

Will Brown said...

Thank you, Peter. I give the idea a bit more of a look here.

Jerry said...

This is a very human response. Other countries' statistics have become notoriously unreliable as police agencies have attempted to bureaucratically justify the success of draconian anti-gun laws. Japan, Britain, China & Australia are just a few examples of countries that under-report or misrepresent the scale of violent crime.

Anonymous said...

This happens everywhere. Politicians and the appointed police leaders who report to them live and die by their effectiveness in reducing crime, particularly in urban areas. This has become even more prevalent in this economic climate. Crime has soared and there is less and less money for hiring new officers. Hundreds retire and very few are being hired to replace them. What's the answer misreporting or failing to take reports on certain crimes. It's all based on the UCR code. If you change the code to a lesser offense it looks better. If you don't take a report according to they system it never happened.

Mike Doyle said...

Yep. I've heard the term "Perverse Incentive" used to describe this. You're required to reduce incidents in your district. You don't have the resources to do targeted patrolling in the depth you need to be effective, and you're not going to get the resources in favor of the Mayor's pet projects. But you have to get the incidents down, or you're fired and effectively blackballed, just like that guy they made an example of last month. And honesty is an awfully thin gruel to try to feed your wife and kids. So, you have a very powerful perverse incentive to gundeck the incident reports.

*sigh* With that kind of pressure, what the Hell did you expect? I don't see how to change it, either, short of outvoting the useful idiots who keep putting the same Mayor and City Councilmen back into office to perpetuate the dishonesty.