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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013

Outside Audit Finds MPD Did Not Manipulate Crime Data

But it found many problems with the Journal Sentinel’s misleading articles

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 An independent audit of the Milwaukee Police Department’s (MPD) crime data showed that, contrary to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s reporting, the department did not manipulate statistics to paint a rosier picture of the city’s crime rate.

Last year, in a series of front-page articles, the Journal Sentinel alleged that the MPD was releasing inaccurate data on the city’s crime rate—data so inaccurate that it should have shown that crime in the city had increased 1% from 2010 to 2011, instead of decreasing 2.3% during that time, as the MPD claimed.

The paper strongly implied that MPD Chief Ed Flynn’s renewed contract was linked to the drop in crime—a drop that the paper’s reporting disputed in a series of articles in 2012.

And rumors floated that officers felt pressure to enter crime data into the department’s database that minimized the seriousness of the crimes they were reporting.

Flynn struck back in interviews and public testimony. While he admitted that the department’s Tiburon records management system had problems, its faults didn’t affect the way that officers policed the streets or investigated crimes, or how the district attorney charged offenders. He said the database was just as likely to over-report crime as it was to under-report crime.

The city’s Fire and Police Commission took the extra step of spending $25,000 on an outside, independent auditor, PRI Management Group, to study the system and investigate the Journal Sentinel’s claims.

And in a report released last week, the consultants found no basis for the Journal Sentinel’s allegations about the MPD’s crime data, saying that if the department had attempted to skew its data to make it more favorable, it would have required an immense—and highly improbable—conspiracy to shift the thousands of records in the system in a significant way.

The auditor noted that Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm had not received any complaints of altered police reports, nor did Chisholm think that the MPD was manipulating crime statistics. Prosecutors review the entire police report—not just the computer code for the crime allegedly committed—before making decisions about charging an offender under a specific statute.

In interviews with officers and MPD staffers, the auditor, PRI’s president, Ed Claughton, couldn’t find anyone who said they felt pressure to change their reports to make the department look better.

As a result, “while it is correct there were inaccuracies in the crime statistics, the allegations inferring the Milwaukee Police Department had intentionally altered them are baseless,” Claughton wrote. “The Milwaukee Police Department is not hiding crimes, erasing statistics or undertaking other efforts to present a false picture of crime in the city. When someone reports a crime in Milwaukee the fact of the matter is, it gets recorded. While the crime category that the incident gets listed in has clearly been problematic, the record of the crime doesn’t disappear.

“In simplest terms, even when reports are misclassified they are still on the books,” Claughton concluded.

The audit reported that in 2011 the MPD responded to more than 200,000 calls for service, wrote 65,595 incident reports, made 37,311 arrests, wrote 141,489 citations and dealt with 12,525 accidents.

The sheer number of reports means that manipulating them in any meaningful way is highly unlikely, Claughton stated.

It’s also highly risky, since changing a police report to include untrue information is a crime.

The audit recommended offering more database training for officers, hiring additional personnel to manage the computer records and scrapping the Tiburon system and implementing a totally new software system.

 

Auditor: 20 ‘Speculative’ and ‘Accusatory’ Articles

Ald. Terry Witkowski, chair of the city’s Public Safety Committee, said he hadn’t read the full report yet, but he said the Journal Sentinel’s coverage of the so-called crime data scandal was “overblown,” and that he and other officials—including Chief Flynn—had known about and tried to fix the Tiburon system’s shortcomings for years.

Witkowski said that he’s never been able to verify the rumors that officers were pressured to misrepresent their data, although he has heard the allegations “floating around.” Witkowski said that he didn’t have any concerns about the veracity of the audit, which was conducted by a consultant that had made supportive comments about Flynn. PRI Consulting received a no-bid contract for its work.

Witkowski’s committee will discuss the audit during its Jan. 24 meeting.

The auditor had sharp words for the Journal Sentinel’s coverage of the MPD’s crime data, saying the paper’s reporters had covered the Tiburon system’s problems since it was implemented in 2005, when Nan Hegerty was chief. Claughton called the paper’s 2012 articles “accusatory” and “speculative.”

He slammed the paper, saying that after printing 20 articles in 2012 “suggesting that nefarious activity was occurring, it wasn’t until Nov. 15 that an editorial by the newspaper stated ‘there is no evidence now that anyone is cooking the books to make the department look better.’”

Claughton wrote, “There wasn’t any evidence to begin with and furthermore, conclusions should never be inferred or determined until all of the evidence is considered.”

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