Lieutenant says he told Frazier of faulty statistics Talk allegedly held before drop declared

October 01, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police lieutenant said he told city Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier that the department's 1993 crime statistics were unreliable months before Frazier used the figures to report that city shootings dropped "nearly 60 percent" from 1993 to 1997.

Before the commissioner's re-confirmation hearing in April 1996 and almost a year before the department announced the shooting decrease early last year, Lt. Wesley Wise told Frazier he was uncomfortable with the crime data, Wise said.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt's office released an audit last week showing that city shootings dropped about 23 percent, less than half Frazier's figure.

While Frazier said he doesn't recall the conversation with Wise, the lieutenant's comments are the first evidence that a ranking police official had misgivings about the department's former system of compiling crime data, known as Management Information Services, from which the shooting statistics were derived.

"I was asked whether I had any problems with MIS, and I said I have reservations with some of the MIS numbers," Wise told The Sun on Monday.

However, Wise supported Frazier, saying that the two never specifically talked about shooting figures and that he didn't consider his comments a warning to Frazier.

"I made a general answer to a general question," said Wise, who worked at the time in the department's planning and research section. He now supervises the MIS section. "No matter what I may have said, I'm sure he's going to ask more than one person."

Frazier said this week that he does not remember Wise's questioning the 1993 shooting data. But given the limitations of the MIS system, such concerns were warranted, Frazier said.

"For someone to say MIS isn't perfect isn't a revelation to me," Frazier said. "We were asking a system to do something it wasn't designed to do."

'A gut feeling'

The MIS computer system was established 20 years ago to organize annual city crime statistics for the FBI. The FBI doesn't require cities to report shootings as a separate category but includes them under aggravated assaults. Wise said he is confident the statistices retrieved by the MIS computer for annual FBI tallies were correct.

The problem, Baltimore police statisticians say, is that MIS wasn't designed to isolate shooting reports.

While Wise said he told Frazier he was uncomfortable with the MIS numbers, he also said he had no evidence of statistical errors, the lieutenant recalled.

Asked by The Sun whether he would be comfortable publishing the 60 percent figure, Wise said he would not. "I just had a gut feeling," he said. "But we had a commissioner at that point who doesn't know what or who to have faith in."

The shooting count became the crux of a much publicized row last spring between Frazier and City Councilman Martin O'Malley. After spending a year reviewing shooting reports from two months of 1993 and two months of 1996, O'Malley accused Frazier of exaggerating the drop in city shootings to make the city appear safer.

Frazier has denied the allegations, saying he had no knowledge of the inaccuracies, did not intentionally mislead the public and relied on department statisticians for the numbers.

In April 1996, the department formed a Violent Crimes Task Force to collect more accurate shooting numbers at the district level. The more accurate task force numbers were compared with the faulty MIS numbers.

Prompted by the City Council, Pratt's independent audit reviewed portions of the 1993 and 1996 police shooting reports. The review showed that the department over-reported 1993 shootings by 37 percent. The comptroller found that the department mistakenly counted incidents that were not shootings during September, October and November of 1993.

To compensate for possible errors, Frazier said he reported the "nearly 60 percent" drop instead of a precise figure. Frazier announced the decrease, he said, to calm citizen fears about crime in the city.

"I knew shootings were cut in half," said Frazier, a former San Jose police administrator hired by the city in February 1994. "I've got a community asking me if things are any better and I know they are a lot better."

O'Malley continues to accuse Frazier of intentionally publishing exaggerated shooting statistics. Murders in the city -- which have numbered more than 300 annually since 1989 -- dropped 12 percent between 1993 and 1997, police data shows. O'Malley called Frazier's assertion last year that violent crime was dropping at a much greater rate "a massive hoax."

Told that Wise raised concerns to Frazier about the 1993 police data, O'Malley said: "It doesn't surprise me."

Wise's assertions are not new. He first acknowledged his concerns over the shooting figures during interviews with The Sun in May. At that time, both the police and the council were trying to determine conclusively whether the shooting calculations were inaccurate.

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