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Chilling Undercounting of Crime

At the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Conference, Ted Gest from Crime and Justice News had some interesting things to say about crime under-reporting.  Murder statistics are usually considered the gold standard, statistically, since it’s hard to misplace a body.  But maybe not so hard, since Detroit managed to “lose” 100 of them last year:

Contrary to FBI statistics, more than 100 Detroit homicides were left off the books last year, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told the Detroit Free Press. Worthy said the Detroit Police Department underreported that 306 people were killed in 2008. She said the homicide number is actually 423.

“What’s a couple hundred murders between friends?” Gest asked.  He also reminded participants that the UCR simply does not include all crimes:

“[T]hose crime figures are very incomplete. Really, it’s a report of crimes that were brought to the attention of local law enforcement – that’s a huge caveat. Some local law enforcement doesn’t even report them to the FBI.”

In addition to the crimes reported in the UCR, there are crimes that go unreported — vast numbers of them.  Then there is intentional manipulation of crime statistics.  Mark Fazlollah, one of the nation’s best-regarded crime reporters, spoke about intentional falsification of crime statistics in cities including Atlanta:

Mark Fazlollah of The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed to a series his paper did looking at the falsification of crime statistics in Philadelphia, which led to revelations of similar mis-reporting in Atlanta, Baltimore and New York. “The phony stats were known for many years,” said Fazlollah. “Aggravated assaults were easily changed to simple assaults…Precinct commanders used to joke about this, but behind those statistics are real victims.”

Ten years ago, Fazlollah’s work on falsifying statistics in Philadelphia helped uncover important revelations about the APD’s crime-counting.  If Detroit can lose 100 murders, should Atlantans feel assured that their worries about crime are mere “perceptions”?

One Response to Chilling Undercounting of Crime

  1. Chris Murphy says:

    Jason Hatcher of EAVBuzz.net repprted that he stopped a burglary in process at a neighbors, and when he did weapons were pointed at him. This was reported in the ‘official’ statistics as “non-violent.” Gives new meaning to the term, “non-violent offender,” eh?

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