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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

The War on Chief Flynn?

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Is the JS waging an unfair jihad against Chief Ed Flynn. Bruce Murphy thinks so... and asks the paper some questions that it doesn't seem anxious to answer.

 

These are heinous charges, not ones to make lightly. Yet the Journal Sentinel did this in a story that is filled with logical and evidentiary holes.

If the idea is that Flynn is trying to cook the books, then you would want to go back to 2007, and compare how assaults were coded under his predecessor, chief Nan Haggerty. The newspaper made no attempt to do this.

In their interview with Flynn, which the police department taped, the chief noted that if there were coding errors in 2011, he would guess the error rate would be the same “in years past going all the way back to 2006.” But the newspaper didn’t feel it was important to include this quotation.

The newspaper cited 214 errors in coding of assaults for 2011 and concluded this meant violent crime increased by 2 percent that year rather than declining 1 percent. Of course if there were just as many assaults miscoded in 2010, this would mean the relative decline in crime reported for 2011 was still the same. I emailed reporter Ben Poston and asked what was the number of assaults misclassified in 2010. He declined to answer.

This seems to be a pattern. My old colleague Erik Gunn did a column for Milwaukee Magazine noting another evidentiary hole: since the newspaper never disclosed the total number of cases it looked at, we have no idea what percent of the codings were erroneous. Was it one or 10 or 15 percent? That makes a huge difference in evaluating both the seriousness of the problem and whether this might be an attempt to cook the books. Poston declined to answer this question from both Gunn and me.

 

 

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