Audits begin on crime in '00

Police checking Jan., Feb. reports in wake of underreporting

Training sessions held

April 05, 2000|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Police Department announced yesterday that it has begun auditing crime reports for the first two months of this year after release of an audit that found police underreported serious crime in the city in 1999 by 14.5 percent.

Police officials said they had conducted training sessions for supervisors to identify mistakes in classifying crimes and were re-establishing an Inspections Unit, abolished four years ago, to ensure accurate reporting.

Among the reasons noted in the audit for the underreporting of serious crime were poor interviewing and writing of reports by responding officers, and poor oversight and monitoring by their superiors.

A separate report by a private consultant, the Maple/Linder Group Inc., found that 72 percent of officers who responded to a survey said that training in how to write reports was "only fair, poor or not available."

That same report, the final version of which was also released yesterday, said that "almost half of the officers surveyed, 47.5 percent, believe that crime reports are often altered after the fact to downgrade incidents."

The report did not elaborate.

At a news conference at police headquarters yesterday, Mayor Martin O'Malley said he did not believe that last year's underreporting of serious crime was a deliberate attempt by previous police commanders to make the city seem safer.

"A couple of years ago, with regard to shootings, I might have had a different answer," said O'Malley.

His comment was a reference to a dispute he had as a member of the City Council with former Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, in which he accused Frazier of purposefully understating the number of shootings in the city.

Cities and counties report their crime figures to the FBI, which publishes an annual compendium of the figures called the Uniform Crime Report.

The crimes are classified as Part I -- which includes eight categories of serious offenses, including rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- or Part II -- which includes comparatively minor offenses ranging from simple assault to disorderly conduct.

Because Part I offenses are the most widely used measure of crime, underreporting them can make a city seem safer than it is.

Crimes underreported

Before the release of yesterday's audit, Baltimore had reported 65,507 serious crimes in 1999, a decrease of 9.6 percent compared with 1998.

But the audit showed Baltimore had 75,079 serious crimes in 1999, 9,572 more than first reported and an increase of 3.5 percent over the previous year.

Police officials said yesterday that commanders need accurate statistics to carry out the department's new computerized crime-fighting strategy.

"Part of what happens when you take over any agency or company is you check the books," said Edward T. Norris, whom O'Malley appointed yesterday as police commissioner.

The two largest categories in which serious crime were misclassified were aggravated assaults and larcenies, the audit found.

The audit found 10,452 aggravated assaults in 1999, 3,314 more than first reported, with most of the increase coming from incidents misclassified as simple assaults.

The audit also found that 36,749 larcenies took place in the city, 4,581 more than initially reported, with most of that increase coming from incidents put in the lesser category of destruction of property.

Assault misclassified

In one police report that auditors reviewed, a domestic assault was classified as a simple assault, though the responding officer clearly wrote in his report that the assault involved a box cutter, which should have elevated the crime to the more serious category of aggravated assault.

In another, a domestic assault was upgraded from simple assault to aggravated assault because an interview with the victim revealed that the assault included a piece of broken glass as well as a fist.

The audit, prepared by Maj. Walter J. Tuffy, involved the review of some 58,000 police reports from the first half of 1999 and interviews with nearly 4,000 victims. The results were then projected using statistical sampling formulas to cover the entire year.

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