“Indignant” Police Chief Defends Department’s Integrity
Chief Flynn provides data that calls into question the Journal Sentinel’s reporting.
Chief Flynn testified today before the Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Safety Committee, presenting what he called a “thorough audit” of crime data that called into question the reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As Alderman Jim Bohl put it, the newspaper’s story was a “lead balloon that has just dropped to the floor” — its “smoking gun has just turned into a pop gun.” Bohl called on the newspaper to admit the problems with its reporting. “If you are a responsible publication than you report it.”
The JS has run numerous stories hammering the department for allegedly underreporting violent crime by mislabeling aggravated assaults as simple assaults. I wrote a column noting many statistical and evidentiary holes in the reporting.
In response to the JS stories, the police department conducted an audit that reviewed 34,000 “assault-type reports” from 2006 through 2012 which included, for instance, disorderly conduct, simple battery, family offenses and other incidents, some of which might have been more accurately coded as aggravated assaults. The point here is obvious: if computer coding mistakes are being made, it’s quite likely the errors could go both ways, to upgrade non-felonies as violent crimes as well as miscoding aggravated assaults as simple assaults.
Here’s what the department found:
- While 5,307 crimes were under-reported (for example, calling an aggravated assault a simple assault), 1,176 crimes were over-reported as more serious than they actually were.
- This had no impact on the reduction in violent crime from 2010 to 2011, which was the basis for the entire Journal Sentinel series. The adjusted totals, the department audit found, showed crime actually declined by 2.4 percent rather than 2.3 percent from 2010 to 2011.
- Computer coding errors have actually decreased over the last six years. (As my story noted, if you’re going to contend that Flynn is cooking the books, you’d have to show the style of reporting crimes has changed since 2007, when Flynn’s predecessor Nan Haggerty was chief.)
The newspaper’s story hammered Flynn for allegedly overstating the decline in crime on his watch and ran quotes from experts calling the mistakes “suspicious,” proof of a “failure of leadership,” a likely sign of deliberate misreporting and “cheating the public.”
Flynn calmly defended the department, pronouncing himself “indignant” at the suggestion “that there’s a vast conspiracy within the upper reaches of the police department.” Any miscodings which occurred, he noted, were human errors “which go all the way back to 2006. These mistakes were not intentional and they were not malicious. They have had no impact on the quality of our policing.”