O'Malley asserts evidence of miscount Councilman says police under-counted shootings soon after study's start

May 28, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

When a gunman killed James Streeter and shot two other men in East Baltimore on April Fool's Day 1996, the crime became more than the city's 50th shooting death of the year.

It was the first multiple shooting and homicide that occurred after the Baltimore Police Department formed its Violent Crimes Task Force to track and curb city gun violence.

Two years later, the men wounded with Streeter and dozens of other shooting victims are part of the growing debate over whether city police counted them among 1996 city shootings.

In his relentless attack on the accuracy of police shooting statistics, City Councilman Martin O'Malley yesterday released department reports that he reviewed from September 1996 that showed police under-counted shootings for that month by 30 percent. However, a count by The Sun -- based on a comparison of O'Malley's and task force numbers -- indicates only a 10 percent miscount.

"Two months ago, the police commissioner and the mayor told us to put up or shut up," said O'Malley, a former state prosecutor who spent six days last week auditing the reports. "Today, we are putting up once again."

O'Malley's finding, announced in City Hall chambers, is the latest in a political donnybrook with Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier over department claims that city shootings dropped by nearly 60 percent over the past five years. O'Malley and Council President Lawrence A. Bell III have challenged the assertion, noting that homicides in the city dropped only 12 percent during that period, which seems inconsistent.

In several cases, multiple shootings such as Streeter's didn't make the task force monthly report list of shootings, The Sun found. Under Police Department protocol, multiple shootings involving a homicide or robbery are handled by the homicide or robbery divisions.

But task force leaders say they checked with those divisions daily and monthly to calculate shooting totals.

"If the task force didn't handle the shooting, it didn't get into the database," said John Tewey, the former task force leader who retired last year. "The way those numbers would get counted was with [the daily checks]."

Police administrators yesterday accused O'Malley of overkill. After double-checking their final task force figures for September 1996, the department came up with six shootings fewer than the 146 O'Malley released yesterday, a difference of 4 percent.

"There is always going to be a small number of errors of statistical compilations required of an agency," said police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. "This is a difference of a couple of percentage points at most."

Despite the 1993 finding, Tewey is confident the department's 1996 shooting figures will hold up. "There was a significant drop in shootings," Tewey said. "Whether it was 60 percent or 50 percent is arguable."

Pub Date: 5/28/98

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