Comptroller to check city shooting figures Baltimore official called in after police chief is accused of rigging crime statistics

March 27, 1998|By Gerard Shields and Peter Hermann | Gerard Shields and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt agreed yesterday to review whether Police Chief Thomas C. Frazier fabricated shooting statistics to make the city appear more safe.

Pratt answered a request from Baltimore City Council members a day after 3rd District Councilman Martin O'Malley made the accusation.

Frazier denied the claim yesterday and gained key support from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who challenged his police chief's accuser to "put up or shut up."

"Unless someone like the FBI says, 'Your reports are defective,' " Schmoke said, "I'm only going to view this as one person's ongoing attack of my police commissioner."

Schmoke was responding to O'Malley's claims Wednesday that a yearlong study of police shooting reports shows that Frazier under-reported 1996 shootings and inflated his predecessor's 1993 shooting numbers to fabricate a drop.

Last year, Frazier said shootings in the city had dropped 50 percent since his arrival in 1993. The former San Jose, Calif., police administrator based his assertion on reports from his department's Violent Crime Task Force.

Yesterday, police leaders acknowledged that the shooting calculations requested by O'Malley might have been slightly skewed because of reporting errors. But, police said, the errors were too few to change their contention that city shootings were halved.

In his first comments on the matter yesterday, Frazier disputed O'Malley's claims that he is intentionally misleading the public.

"His accusations are insulting to this entire Police Department," said Frazier, who was out of town Wednesday. "I'm confident that those records are accurate. I'm confident in the integrity of everyone in this Police Department, from the data-entry clerk to the police commissioner."

O'Malley and four colleagues on the council's Legislative Investigations Committee voted unanimously yesterday to ask Pratt to audit police shooting reports. The comptroller, whose department often audits city operations, agreed to review shooting reports for September 1996 and September 1993 to compare to O'Malley's work.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III joined the committee in supporting the review as a way to resolve whether the police are accurately reporting shootings.

"It's not a personal attack on the police," Bell said. "We are pursuing public safety, not public relations."

He and O'Malley began chal- lenging Frazier's numbers because murders in the city have remained fairly constant, exceeding 300 a year since 1989, Bell said. He and O'Malley are calling for the city to adopt the "zero tolerance" crime strategy that has helped cities such as New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles cut their murder rates.

Schmoke, Frazier and their council supporters have spurned the suggestion, saying a majority of the violent crime is committed by a small percentage of criminals involved in drug peddling.

Pratt is elected separately from the council and mayor, but Schmoke said yesterday that he would not consider her review an independent one. The mayor said he wants to remove any doubt about the shooting figures by taking city politics out of the fight.

"If there is a question about the validity of our statistics, I would think the FBI would comment on that," Schmoke said.

Each year, police departments report crime to the FBI. But shootings aren't reported; they are listed instead as aggravated assaults. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department's Uniform Crime Report Division said the shooting dispute is outside the federal government's jurisdiction.

"Shootings are an in-house category, something developed by the Baltimore police," said Maryvictoria Pyne. "It has nothing to do with us. The way Baltimore reports them to us are fine."

After the council committee meeting, police supervisors responsible for tracking shootings in the city said their reports are accurate and Frazier has not asked them to manipulate the data.

Former police Lt. John Tewey, a 21-year veteran and former Violent Crime Task Force commander, concurred.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the records that have been kept here are not only accurate, they are close to perfect," said Tewey, who retired this year and now works for an insurance company. "What I don't have a problem with is the police commissioner's integrity."

O'Malley and the committee will meet again Monday and are inviting Frazier to attend. Meanwhile, police union officials said yesterday they support an independent review to settle the matter.

"The issue is between the elected leaders of our city and police Commissioner Thomas Frazier," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3.

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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