Thursday, June 28, 2012

Milwaukee's declining crime rate under review

Milwaukee's police department has misreported more than 5,300 violent assaults since 2006.  An internal department audit shows that 20% of aggravated assaults were underreported as lesser offenses that didn't get counted in the city's violent crime rate during that time.

The findings are consistent with a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation last month of a more-limited pool of cases that identified in excess of 500 misreported serious assaults over a three-year period and another 800 cases that fit the same pattern.

Reported violent crime rates are more and more coming under scrutiny.  As homicide rates creep up in some cities--and medical trauma units continue to improve treatment for gun shot wounds--some practitioners are concerned that violent crime rates are being manipulated.

The department's review suggests the problem is much deeper than had been reported and has existed for a longer period, including before Police Chief Edward Flynn's tenure began in 2008.

Flynn said that despite thousands of crime coding errors, their review showed violent crime is still down by double digits - a 25% decrease since 2007, reported the Journal Sentinel.

According to the Journal Sentinel, the under-coding error rate was 23% in the two years before Flynn came to Milwaukee, compared with 19% since his arrival in 2008. When the FBI reviews crime data reported by states, the goal is to find less than a 2% error rate for all crimes, said Daniel Bibel, former president of the Association of State Uniform Crime Reporting Programs. An under-reporting error rate of 20% for aggravated assaults is 10 times higher than the accepted standard.

Journal Sentinel review found that Milwaukee police record clerks have routinely changed computer codes by hand in a way that removes serious assaults from the city's violent crime rate. Department officials acknowledged this was happening, blaming it on training issues.

The sample used in the periodic FBI audits typically covers hundreds of reports. The Journal Sentinel's investigation compared crime data to some 60,000 cases, which amounted to more than one-fifth of the 280,000 reported crimes in the period covered. Only the cases sent to prosecutors could be reviewed based on available data.

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