Overhaul of Crime Stats Should Include Data Theft, Toxic Spills: Expert Panel

A 15-member panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences said Wednesday that current statistics collection has left gaps in data about many offenses affecting American life today. It also recommended that the government consider centralizing the control of collecting crime statistics.

An expert committee organized by the National Academy of Sciences called Wednesday for centralizing the control of collecting crime statistics as part of an overhaul of the nation’s crime-data collection system.

Such an overhaul, which would fill in gaps on reporting of offenses like data theft and environmental crime, is essential to developing a “more inclusive picture of crime in the United States,” the committee said.

The changes  would help managers and policymakers better assess the effectiveness of crime-fighting policies, evaluate the effectiveness of existing policies, and make justice agencies more accountable, it added.

The experts did not specify which agency should lead the process, but it said “what is critical is that national crime statistics be produced, coordinated, and governed pursuant to the expected sensibilities of a statistical agency, one for which data collection and dissemination—and attention to issues of data quality—are essential to the agency’s mission.”

The 15-member panel, headed by criminologist Janet Lauritsen of the University of Missouri St. Louis, said policymakers and justice practitioners currently lack “key and timely” data to help them improve and measure the effectiveness of their work.

“There is great benefit to be realized from better statistics in the nation’s crime problems,” said the panel. “It is time to develop a more inclusive picture of crime in the United States.”

Overall, the panel contended that “modern crime statistics require consideration of completely different ways to measure crime,” including, for example, assessing the “harm imposed by, or the costs associated with, crime.”

The group also cited the “problematic lack of solid information about the relative magnitude of the costs, harms, or importance across crime offense types or specific incidents.”

The call for a centralization of crime statistics would replace a system in place for decades, in which authority has been split between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which issues an annual report on crime statistics voluntarily submitted by police departments, and the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, which publishes a yearly report based on interviews with Americans on whether they have been crime victims in the previous year.

The reports differ greatly because a large number of crimes are not reported to police.

The expert panel, formally known as the Panel on Modernizing the Nation’s Crime Statistics, offered several examples of the gaps in data on crime. Among them:

  • Thefts of data from businesses or government agents may put millions of Americans at risk of identity theft and serious financial harm. Cyberspace is a “perpetual domestic crime scene,” the committee said, but national crime statistics “have not been well equipped to measure cybercrimes such as the deployment of malware or coordinated attacks on computer networks.”
  • The opioid overdose crisis highlights the fact that production, sale and possession of narcotics are important crime categories, but those activities “are not well characterized in current crime statistics,” which largely consist of counts of seizures and arrests for drug law violations. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy periodically issues estimates on the dollar value of major drug markets, and data on drug users, but they are not part of routine crime reporting.
  • Materials “disappear” daily from the stocks of retailers and businesses, but the phenomenon is known as shrinkage “poorly understood by the public, in part because businesses do not commonly report all of their losses to law enforcement …even though the billions of dollars in losses almost inevitably affect all consumers.”
  • Available crime data “lack the detail and the timeliness to address important concerns,” the committee said. Both in 2006 and 2015, “news accounts and general perception fueled concerns about major increases in homicide despite the fact that the current homicide rate is less than half the rate of the 1980s and 1990s.”

Although some media outlets and advocacy groups collect their own data, the panel said, “the nation as a whole was hindered by the typical 10-month gap between the end of the calendar year and the release of current national crime statistics, unable to understand whether local patterns were part of broader regional or national patterns or whether increased homicide activities were limited to specific forms of homicide such as drug-related murder.”

The committee’s last reference was to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR), which typically is issued in late September for the previous year. The Justice Department’s victimization survey usually comes out even later.

The panel noted that merely counting the numbers of incidents, especially in the case of of relatively new crime types, is insufficient.

It cited as an example “ransomware” that denies computer users access to their data until a ransom is paid. There is a huge difference between locking up one home computer and the data system of an entire hospital or medical group.

Similarly, with environmental crimes, improperly disposing of a computer battery and spilling large volumes of toxic materials into the water or air each may represent a single violation of the law, but they are likely to have vastly different consequences.

Another problem cited by the panel is that both the FBI report and the victimization survey tend to report “coarse tallies” of how many crimes in particular categories occurred in the previous year.

That is not enough, said the experts, “to meet the needs of the full range of users and stakeholders.”

The committee mentioned some recently evolving offenses like arson, hate crime, human trafficking and cargo theft whose nuances are difficult to capture in totals of how many crimes were committed in a year.

The panel discussed the lack of detail in the FBI’s annual report, which provides totals of crime types like homicide and robbery that are reported by most of the nation’s 18,000 police departments.

For many years, the FBI has been trying to get more information on each crime through a system known as the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) that includes as many as several dozen details of each crime incident.

Police departments have been slow to compile and submit the data. Former FBI director James Comey called for the system to be adopted nationally by 2021.

The DOJ victimization survey also has had limitations because of a lack of resources. While the FBI data provides city-by-city crime counts, until recently, the victimization survey has been unable to make anything but national estimates. A few regional totals now are available.

The committee, which has been working for about four years, issued an earlier report with a proposed new classification of crimes to take into account modern-day violations in areas like environmental and computer crime, fraud, and national security.

Citing the historic split between the FBI and BJS in collecting crime data, the committee said that the U.S. has a “crime statistics system that lacks essential leadership.”

The committee did not take a stand on which agency should take the lead in the future or whether a new structure should be created.

“It is not clear if either BJS or the FBI is currently positioned to be successful in expanding the collection of crime statistics,” the committee said, suggesting that the White House Office of Management and Budget investigate the subject and make a recommendation.

Because most crime is reported on a state and local level, the report emphasized that state and local authorities should be included in planning any changes that will be coordinated on a federal level. The report includes a state-by-state summary of the laws and regulations on reporting crime statistics.

Joining Lauritsen on the study panel were Daniel Bibel, retired head of the Massachusetts State Police Crime Reporting Unit; Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University; Kim English of the Colorado Department of Public Safety; and Robert Goerge of the University of Chicago; Nola Joyce, a retired official of the Philadelphia Police Department; David McDowall of the University at Albany; and Jennifer Madans of the National Center for Health Statistics.

Other panel members were: Michael Maltz of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Ohio State University; Michael Miller of the Coral Gables, Fl., Police Department; James Nolan of West Virginia University; Amy O’Hara of the Stanford University Institute for Economic Policy Research; John Pepper of the University of Virginia; Alex Piquero of the University of Texas at Dallas; and Jeffrey Sedgwick of the Justice Research and Statistics Association.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Las Vegas Crime Count for 2017 is Suspected

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo touted a 0.9 percent drop in violent crime last year. The Las Vegas Review-Journal finds that at least two murders were omitted, as were the 58 deaths in the mass shooting at a concert.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department started the new year by touting a 0.9 percent drop in violent crime between 2016 and 2017. “We began last year committed to reducing violent crimes, and we were able to deliver (on) that promise,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said. “We still have more ground to cover, but we’re headed in the right direction.” Yet that reported dip in crime is insignificant, several criminologists told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “This is only a small drop in the bucket,” said John Eterno, a retired New York City police captain now at New York’s Molloy College and co-author of “The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation.”

A closer look at the homicide numbers also reveals a handful of discrepancies and a glaring omission: the 58 people killed in the Las Vegas mass shooting. The total of 141 homicides investigated last year does not include two cases. One killing of a man sleeping outside was omitted from the count because it occurred on railroad property. Another case left out involved a man who died after a police officer stunned him seven times with a Taser and held him in a chokehold. The coroner declared the death a homicide, but police didn’t include it in the count because it was not investigated by the homicide unit. “It looks to me like they are trying to show themselves in the best possible light, which is their job,” Eterno said. “But we worry about them playing with the numbers to the point where we’re not getting any true value out of the numbers.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Media, The FBI, and Confusion on Shooting Data

Many oft-cited statistics disregard forms of school violence that may not have involved guns but are similar to shootings in intention or impact, says The Atlantic. The messiness of counting school shootings contributes to sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in the U.S. based on information is confusing at best and inaccurate at worst.

After the Florida school massacre, news organizations are engaging in a grim tradition: tallying the ever-growing list of school shootings in the U.S., and of mass shootings more generally, The Atlantic reports. The Daily Beast cited data from Everytown, the gun-control advocacy group, which called the Florida episode the 59th shooting at or near schools this academic year. The counting of school shootings, and of other types of shootings and incidents of mass violence, isn’t a straightforward process. Many oft-cited statistics disregard forms of school violence that may not have involved guns but are similar to shootings in intention or impact. The messiness of counting school shootings contributes to sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in the U.S. based on information is confusing at best and inaccurate at worst.

In 2008, the FBI limited its definition of mass shootings to a single incident in which a shooter kills four or more people. In 2013 the agency defined an “active shooter” as a person “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” After the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Ct., Congress defined“mass killings” as three or more killings in one incident. Separating out different forms of gun violence in the statistics is crucial in understanding why shootings happen and how they might be prevented. Under pressure from the National Rifle Association, Congress in 1996 prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding public-health research on firearms issues. There is still no comprehensive federal database on gun deaths, let alone on school shootings. After the Aurora, Co., movie-theater shooting, Mother Jones created an open-source database of mass shootings. The newspaper Education Week launched a database that counts school shootings. Each database has its own criteria for what it defines as a mass or school shooting.

from https://thecrimereport.org

St. Louis, Baltimore Had Highest Homicide Rates in Early ’17

Data from the first six months of 2017 showed the cities with the highest murder numbers per 100,000 population. New Orlenas, Detroit and Cleveland rounded out the top five. Chicago came in as number eight.

CBS News compiled a list of the supposedly deadliest U.S. cities, based on data for the first six months of 2017 compiled by the Major City Chiefs Association. St. Louis is listed as the city with the highest homicide rate, 29.1 per 100,000 population. Baltimore is second, at 27.3, followed by New Orleans, 24.5, Detroit, 20.2 and Cleveland, 14.5.

Chicago has been notable for its high murder totals in recent years, but on a per capita basis, the city ranks only number eight on CBS’s list, with a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 population. The FBI and criminologists warn against using crime data to rank cities, saying it can produce misleading results because of vagaries in city boundaries and other factors.

from https://thecrimereport.org

56 Percent Say Reducing Crime Is A Top Priority

Observations 56 percent of Americans believe that crime needs to be reduced. 68 percent of Americans believe that crime is increasing. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of […]

Observations 56 percent of Americans believe that crime needs to be reduced. 68 percent of Americans believe that crime is increasing. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of […]

from https://www.crimeinamerica.net

How Longer Police Response Times Can Deflate Crime Count

Long response times can lead to officers recording fewer incidents as crimes. An analysis of data from New Orleans, Detroit and Cincinnati found that as response times go up, the likelihood that a crime will be found drops.

A 911 call was made on October 15, 2015, to report a New Orleans battery incident involving a relatively minor use of force. Police arrived nearly a half-hour later, found no evidence of a crime having occurred, and went on their way. The reality of the situation was quite different, according to a report published by The New Orleans Advocate. In actuality, a car had blown through a stop sign just after 11 p.m. A 64-year-old man visiting from San Diego was nearly hit by the car and exchanged angry words with the driver, who a witness says assaulted the tourist. The victim was ultimately paralyzed, reports FiveThirtyEight.com. The emergency medical service arrived 13 minutes after the 911 call was placed. The ambulance left with the injured tourist eight minutes before a police officer reached the scene. Finding no victim, the officer marked the call “unfounded.”

The incident is an egregious example of the effect that lengthy police response times can have on a city’s crime totals. Over the course of the hundreds of thousands of incidents that take place each year, long response times can lead to officers recording fewer incidents as crimes, which can hurt the reliability of crime totals tallied by the FBI when the agency compiles national statistics. And ultimately, these delays can erode public confidence in the police. An analysis of 2016 data from three cities, New Orleans, Detroit and Cincinnati, and found that as response times go up, the likelihood that a crime will be found goes down. Indeed, in all three cities, when police took more than two hours to respond, they were over 2.5 times more likely to report they’d found no evidence that a crime had occurred.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Violent Crime Reduction Needs Context

Observations A small reduction in violent crime for the first six months of 2017 is good news, and we all hope it continues, but declaring that violent crime is declining or will decline for all of 2017 is a stretch at best. When compared to twenty years of crime data, the 2017 numbers are mushy and somewhat […]

Observations A small reduction in violent crime for the first six months of 2017 is good news, and we all hope it continues, but declaring that violent crime is declining or will decline for all of 2017 is a stretch at best. When compared to twenty years of crime data, the 2017 numbers are mushy and somewhat […]

from https://www.crimeinamerica.net

Denver Police Finds Problems With 1,000 Crime Reports

The police department says it “discovered some anomalies in how cases were being classified.” Chief Robert White ordered an audit of the relevant citywide crime statistics. The department has never explained what specific anomalies were found. CBS4 said the crime reports were downgraded in a way that improved department crime statistics.

The Denver Police Department has discovered problems with 1,000 of its crime reports, prompting an investigation into who is responsible for the errors and whether someone intentionally fudged the numbers, reports the Denver Post. Inaccurate data or false reporting can damage a department’s credibility, said criminologist Jim Ponzi of Regis University in Denver who has researched crime reporting and its impact. “The biggest thing of all is how do you stop crime if your statistics are inaccurate?” he said. “Where do you dedicate your resources if you don’t have baseline data?” The department is unable to finalize its 2017 annual crime report as it digs into why the numbers are flawed and who is responsible, said police spokesman Sonny Jackson.

Jackson would not specify which categories of crime statistics are flawed or from which of the city’s six police districts the reports originated. The audit found about 1,000 crime reports that were problematic, about 1 percent of the total crime reports filed in 2017. Crime data can affect everything from where a police department assigns its officers to home prices in neighborhoods where crime may appear rampant. The numbers also can influence decisions about promotions and commendations within police departments as commanders who can show decreased crime in their districts are rewarded. Denver police issued a news release to report that employees in its data analysis unit had “discovered some anomalies in how cases were being classified.” Chief Robert White ordered an audit of the relevant citywide crime statistics. The department has never explained what specific anomalies were found. CBS4 said the crime reports were downgraded in a way that improved department crime statistics. Intentionally reporting false crime data could be criminal under Colorado laws.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Evidence Links Medicaid Expansion to Lower Crime Rates

Economist Qiwei He of Clemson University, studying 2010-2016 FBI data, found that access to health care decreased homicide by 7.7 percent; burglary rates by 3.6 percent; motor vehicle thefts by 10 percent; robbery by 6.1 percent; and aggravated assault by 2.7 percent.

New economic research ties Medicaid expansion to lower crime rates and billions of dollars in “crime reduction benefits,” adding to the small body of empirical evidence on the effect of health care on criminal behavior.

Using state- and county-level data from FBI Uniform Crime Reports between 2010 and 2016, economist Qiwei He, of the John E. Walker Department of Economics at Clemson University, compared states with Medicaid expansions to those without, and found that access to health care decreased homicide by 7.7 percent; burglary rates by 3.6 percent; motor vehicle thefts by 10 percent; robbery by 6.1 percent; and aggravated assault by 2.7 percent.

According to the study, which was first published in late December and updated last week, Medicaid expansion saved states nearly $10 billion in one year.

The analysis was carried out concurrently with another investigation of Medicaid expansion and crime, covered in Oct 2017 by The Crime Report. While both studies conclude that access to health care reduces crime rates, He writes that his analysis shows a somewhat weaker effect.

According to He, “the statistically significant crime reduction effects of the Medicaid expansion on Burglary, motor vehicle theft, and robbery provide evidence that the Medicaid expansion is more likely to affect money-related crimes than other crimes.”

crime rates

See also: Medicaid Expansion Tied to Reduction in Crime

The full report, The Effect of Health Insurance on Crime Evidence from the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion, is available for free download on SSRN. This summary was prepared by Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Crimes Americans Worry About Most

Secret Service Police Vehicle Overview When you have 20 to 40 percent of Americans worried about street crime, and 65 percent concerned about cybercrime, it explains a lot as to our crime policies and our views of criminality and criminal justice policy. Author  Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal […]

Secret Service Police Vehicle Overview When you have 20 to 40 percent of Americans worried about street crime, and 65 percent concerned about cybercrime, it explains a lot as to our crime policies and our views of criminality and criminal justice policy. Author  Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal […]

from https://www.crimeinamerica.net