Baltimore shooting statistics to come from yearly FBI report, Schmoke says Order follows review that found data faulty

November 19, 1998|By Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn | Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police will no longer publicize city shooting statistics because faulty data prompted officials to boast the city was safer than it really was, the mayor said yesterday.

Instead, police will supply statistics from the FBI's yearly crime report -- in which shootings are part of a broader category that tracks aggravated assaults -- to inform the public about crime in city neighborhoods.

The information crackdown resulted from a review by a University of Maryland, College Park criminologist, who found in a report released yesterday that shootings dropped about 33 percent from 1993 to 1997, not the nearly 60 percent police claimed.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and police commanders blamed outdated computer programs for the miscount.

Schmoke said he does not see evidence to "suggest deliberate lying or misleading the public," as City Councilman Martin O'Malley alleged in March.

Schmoke said he and Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier were duped by the apparent huge drop in shootings and made the numbers public to score a public relations coup at a time when crime was falling in many other cities.

"It was a situation where the commissioner and I were looking for good news to report," Schmoke said. "The bottom line is that the numbers should have probably remained internal."

Robert W. Weinhold Jr., the Police Department's chief spokesman, said the block on releasing local statistics might be lifted after an "accurate, comprehensive crime reporting system is in place."

Crime data that will be released are limited to categories set by the FBI to track national trends. Called Uniform Crime Reports, they include murder, rape, robbery, burglary, larceny and stolen cars.

Shootings fall under aggravated assaults, which includes everything from a mugging in which a victim is struck to someone getting shot in the leg. Baltimore police reported 8,145 aggravated assaults in 1993, compared with 7,995 in 1997.

Shooting numbers had been questioned for several years because their sharp drop in 1994 was out of proportion to a slight rise in assaults that year and a stable homicide rate, which has exceeded 300 a year for almost a decade. A department study blamed the contrast on an increase in execution-style killings and more lethal hits.

Results of the university study are similar to two other reviews, by the city comptroller's office and the Police Department. Those reports concluded that the number of shootings in years prior to 1994 were miscounted. Comparing the overstated 1993 numbers more accurate 1997 figures showed a nearly 60 percent drop.

But UM Criminologist Charles Wellford counted 1,300 people wounded by gunfire in 1993 -- not the 2,200 reported by police.

He said 864 shootings occurred in 1997, putting the drop at 33 percent.

BTC Officer Gary McLhinney, the police union president who has questioned the department's shooting numbers, said the study "tells us nothing new. The numbers were wrong. We need to earn the trust of the community back."

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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