Dispute over shooting reports unresolved Frazier says analysis by O'Malley is 'flawed'

March 31, 1998|By Gerard Shields and Peter Hermann | Gerard Shields and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Attempts to reconcile differences over the number of Baltimore shootings crumbled yesterday as Police Chief Thomas C. Frazier stood by his assertion that shootings in the city have dropped by half since his arrival four years ago.

With Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke by his side, the police chief once again denied accusations by Councilman Martin O'Malley that the Police Department intentionally underreported shootings to make the city appear safer.

"The analysis was flawed," Frazier said of O'Malley's study of police shooting reports released last week. "My response is put up or shut up."

Frazier's comments followed an afternoon meeting with Schmoke, O'Malley, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt. Bell called the meeting in an effort to resolve the shootings dispute.

After a yearlong investigation, O'Malley unveiled a 2-inch-thick binder of police reports last week that he said disproved Frazier's claims. The second-term councilman from the 3rd District audited police shooting reports for November 1996 and 1993.

O'Malley concluded Frazier underreported shootings in 1996 and inflated shooting figures under his predecessor, Edward V. Woods, to show a crime drop.

Before yesterday's meeting, Bell indicated that he and O'Malley would back off the contention that Frazier intentionally misled the public if the chief would acknowledge widespread reporting errors.

"Some very serious mistakes have been made, and the best way for Commissioner Frazier to defuse the situation is to acknowledge that shootings in this city have not gone down 50 percent," Bell said. "Whether it was done intentionally or not, we need to have an accurate picture over the last four years."

Police administrators have acknowledged routine reporting errors on crime statistics. But Frazier and his department said mistakes weren't frequent enough to affect his contention that shootings dropped by 50 percent.

Police acknowledged that human error can play a role in keeping crime statistics. The department said its report on larcenies in 1996 was off by about 1,500 cases.

About 17 months ago, a series of clerical errors blamed on a new computer system resulted in the Police Department undercounting larceny complaints by about 1,500. Officials say the mistake was discovered when someone realized the drop couldn't have been that big.

"Obviously, once we discovered the error, the numbers were entered in," said Lt. Wesley Wise, who runs the department's Management Information System, which is responsible for reporting the city's crime numbers to the federal government.

The glitch occurred starting in October 1996, soon after a new 311 nonemergency telephone number to screen routine police calls went into place. To streamline the service, officers answering the 311 line were allowed to type the larceny information onto their computer screen and print the data.

Data entry clerks entered the reports in an internal database but not in the computer program used for Unified Crime Reports kept by the U.S. Department of Justice. The problem lasted a few months until the error was discovered in early 1997, Wise said. The newfound larceny figures were added to statistics for one month in 1997, creating an artificial spike, he said.

Whether reporting errors were made doesn't support O'Malley's contention that Frazier intentionally misled the public, Schmoke said. "What is at stake here is an attack on the police commissioner's integrity," Schmoke said. "Mr. O'Malley has essentially called the commissioner a liar."

O'Malley has accused Frazier of trying to thwart his inquiry into city shootings. At one point, a police commander was under department investigation for giving O'Malley police information without first clearing it with Frazier.

Schmoke said the Police Department will cooperate with any continuing council review, but will charge council members $10 per police report, Schmoke said. O'Malley's initial review would have cost taxpayers $10,000, but was waived, Frazier said.

Bell criticized the copying fee as "exorbitant." Both sides did agree, however, to cooperate with any audit conducted by Pratt. Pratt is considering a request made by the council's Legislative Investigation Committee to study past police reports to LTC determine the accuracy of Frazier's shootings claim.

The committee has requested shooting reports from September 1996 and September 1993. Schmoke said he wants all shooting reports for the four-year period in question studied. The debate over the shooting figures is taking away from the city's crime fighting, he said.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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