Shooting stats overstated, review says Gun violence drop exaggerated, says independent audit

Reporting is 'antiquated'

November 18, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

An independent review has confirmed that Baltimore police substantially overstated the drop in gun violence over the past four years, according to a summary of the study obtained by The Sun last night.

The review conducted by a University of Maryland, College Park criminologist reaches conclusions similar to those of two other studies -- by the police and comptroller's office -- that showed Police Department computer glitches overcounted the number of shootings in years before 1994.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier boasted last year that shootings had dropped nearly 60 percent from 1993 to 1997. "The city has clearly turned the corner on violence," he said then.

But the UM criminologist who conducted the latest study, Charles Wellford, said in his report that shootings fell about 33 percent from 1993 to 1997.

"The department does not have an accurate and complete incident-based crime reporting system," Wellford concluded in his report, which has been delivered to the mayor's office, but has not been publicly released.

The findings pleased police officials, who said the review proved the statistics were not altered on purpose. City Councilman Martin O'Malley had questioned the numbers in March and said Frazier had committed a "massive hoax."

"Three individual studies have now found the variances are attributed to the limitations of an antiquated crime reporting system," said Robert W. Weinhold Jr., the department's chief spokesman.

"Commissioner Frazier in the past has utilized the statistical information provided to him in good faith," Weinhold said. "Clearly, by all accounts, integrity is not an issue."

O'Malley said last night that the shooting drop "still isn't 60 percent, and I'll be interested in seeing the reports and the methodology [Wellford] used."

The city hired Wellford, who declined to comment last night, in July for $10,000 to conduct the study, the most comprehensive thus far. It was the only study in which every shooting report -- there are more than 3,000 -- was counted.

A similar audit by city Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, concluded in September, also showed that the department overstated the drop in shootings and that the police counting system was not reliable.

But Pratt sampled shootings during three months in 1993 and three months in 1996 and found a 37 percent disparity. Frazier criticized Pratt's sampling as being too narrow to accurately analyze the numbers.

Frazier had pushed for the UM study, and got his way in July when the Board of Estimates approved the contract over the objections of Pratt and Council President Lawrence A. Bell III.

The copy of the review obtained last night does not detail specific findings or offer comparison data. Wellford said he found that 1,295 people were shot in 1993 before Frazier was hired, compared with 864 in 1997. The number does not include shootings that resulted in homicides.

The department had reported that about 2,200 people had been shot and wounded in 1993, a miscount that caused a spike on the crime charts and was part of a reported crime surge that led to the ouster of police Commissioner Eddie V. Woods.

And there remain some unexplained discrepancies. Weinhold said 1,036 people were shot and wounded in 1997, 172 more than Wellford found. The spokesman said Wellford did not count accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds, items included in the department's figures.

Pratt and Wellford recommended that the city find a way to more accurately compile crime statistics. The department has requested purchase of a record management system that is expected to be in place next summer.

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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