Monday, May 28, 2012

Milwaukee's crime drop tainted by misreporting

Milwaukee's crime rate has decreased each of the last four years.  A new investigation by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has found that hundreds of beatings, stabbings and child abuse cases were missing from the violent crime count.

More than 500 incidents since 2009 were misreported to the FBI as minor assaults and not included in the city's violent crime rate, the investigation found. That tally is based on a review of cases that resulted in charges - only about one-fifth of all reported crimes.

Yet the misreported cases found in 2011 alone are enough that Milwaukee would have been announcing a 1.1% increase in violent crime in February, instead of a 2.3% decline from the reported 2010 numbers, which also include errors, reported the Journal Sentinel. 

"Misreporting is cheating the public," Michael Maltz, criminology professor at Ohio State University told the Journal Sentinel. He called the findings just "the tip of the iceberg."

"If they are playing fast and loose, they will do it with the cases they don't send to the prosecutor," said Maltz, senior researcher at the university's Criminal Justice Research Center. "If it's this bad at this level, how bad can it be on the cases that don't reach eye level?"

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system is aimed at helping the state and FBI monitor crime and trends. A city's overall crime rate is made up of eight categories - four violent crimes (homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) and four property crimes (burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson).

According to the Journal Sentinel, all other incidents, such as simple assaults, are excluded from the official crime rate. When a crime is misreported as a lesser incident, to the general public it's as if it never happened.

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