Police overstated shootings, audit shows But city study fails to show any intentional misleading, mayor says

September 24, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Peter Hermann contributed to this story.

An official audit of city shootings shows that Baltimore police overstated the drop in city gun violence, partially validating a city councilman's claims.

But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke stood by city Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier yesterday, saying that the audit -- that compared shootings in September, October and November in 1993 and 1996 -- failed to support Councilman Martin O'Malley's allegations that the misrepresentation was deliberate.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt released her audit yesterday detailing discrepancies in the accuracy and reliability of police shooting statistics. The audit -- requested in March by the City Council -- criticized the Police Department for failing to have a system in place to report shootings, despite using them as a key in measuring city violence.

"We have concluded that the Baltimore City Police Department's non-fatal shooting data collection systems were not reliable," City Auditor Yovonda Brooks said in issuing the audit yesterday to the city's Board of Estimates.

Schmoke and Frazier expressed concern over Pratt's finding, saying that citizens should not view the three-month sampling as widespread evidence of inaccurate shooting statistics.

In July, the city hired a University of Maryland criminal justice professor to review shooting statistics for two full years -- 1993 and 1996.

"Without question, an entire year's non-fatal shootings statistics must be analyzed to effectively, comprehensively and fairly evaluate the non-fatal shooting decrease during the past four years in Baltimore City," Frazier said in a written response to the audit.

Last year, Frazier issued a press release stating that city shootings dropped "nearly 60 percent" between 1993 and early 1997. The audit by Pratt's office showed the drop in shootings was closer to 23 percent. The department over-reported shootings by 37 percent in the three-month 1993 sampling and under-reported them by 5 percent in the 1996 review, the audit said.

Over the last year, accuracy in crime statistics has been a growing concern across the nation as police departments increasingly feel pressure to match double-digit percentage crime drops in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans. Findings of falsification of crime statistics have forced the resignation or demotion of high-ranking commanders this year in Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and Boca Raton, Fla.

In March, O'Malley questioned the claim of a nearly 60 percent drop in city shootings, noting that the number of murders in bTC Baltimore has remained over 300 per year since 1989. The former prosecutor -- who serves as chairman of the council's Legislative Affairs Committee -- spent a year studying police shooting reports in September and November of 1993 and 1996 before calling Frazier's claims "a massive hoax."

City police acknowledged the 1993 inaccuracies, blaming them on a 20-year-old computer system. In 1996, the department developed the Violent Crimes Task Force to more accurately collect shooting numbers as a means to more effectively assign officers.

Pratt's audit, however, found that the task force also erred. The department failed to count five shootings over the three-month 1996 period that should have been included, it noted. Yesterday, O'Malley welcomed Pratt's findings as substantiating his scrutiny.

"I thought the audit was professionally and thoroughly done," said O'Malley, whose district covers Northeast Baltimore. "The primary issue is making the city safer."

Frazier said the department has made the necessary corrections to assure that current shootings are being counted accurately. The department recently requested purchase of a new record management system that is expected to be in place next summer.

Frazier also claimed victory through the audit yesterday, noting that it failed to find intentional wrongdoing by the department. "To me, the most offensive issue was to question departmental integrity," Frazier said.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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