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John Mercure: Mercurey Rising

Chief Flynn, Crime Numbers, and Unanswered Questions

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We now know that the Milwaukee Police Department has misreported more than 6000 assaults since 2006. That is stunning and is far more serious than what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been reporting.  That means 25% of aggravated assault cases were underreported!  25%!  The FBI aims for an error rate of 2% for all crimes.  That means the crime numbers we have been lead to believe are accurate are actually flawed 12 times higher than the accepted rate.

A few weeks ago The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story of how the Milwaukee Police Department reports those crime numbers. The story found that 500 crimes that should have been reported as aggravated assaults, a felony, were instead classified and reported as simple assaults, a misdemeanor.  The FBI considers the difference important.  Aggravated assaults are considered violent crimes, simple assaults are not.  The misclassification makes it appear that there are less violent crimes than there actually are.

The Chief has not taken issue with the 500 misclassified cases uncovered by the newspaper.  He has not disputed those numbers.  

Today the Chief spoke before the Public Safety Committee of the Milwaukee Common Council to explain and defend how his department reports crime numbers.

One of the Chief's primary defenses has been that the newspaper only looked at a small window’s worth of crime stats. (Never mind the fact that the Milwaukee Police Department has made it exorbitantly expensive to have Open Records Requests filled) So today the Chief comes out and says that his department has found more than 6000 reporting errors.  6000! Now mind you, the Department was looking at figures from 2006-2012, but 600 mistakes?!?!  

The Chief claims that of the aggravated assault cases they selectively decided to look at, 5307 cases that should have been classified as aggravated assaults were mistakenly recorded as simple assaults. 1178 cases that should have been reported as simple assaults were misreported as aggravated assaults. Do the math.  That means that in the aggregate more than 4100 serious assaults were underreported as simple assaults.

I’m not sure we can even believe the findings reported by the Chief this afternoon. All of this is the result of an internal investigation.  That means that people who report to the Chief did his research on this project. If your boss makes you work on a project that could make him look really bad or could bolster what he needs the public to believe, what are you going to be more inclined to do?  This was an internal investigation and the department looked at ‘targeted incidents’  The cases that were reviewed were handpicked by the Chief and/or those doing the internal investigation. They could have chosen to look at or look away from any individual case they wanted.  If we want a true, objective look at what is going on inside the numbers, we need an outside audit and investigation; an independent investigation.

I guess the bottom line is that violent crime wasn’t just underreported during the short time span that the Milwaukee Journal initially looked at.  It has been underreported for at least six years.  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.  As a matter of fact, I feel a whole lot worse.


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