When Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn touted the city’s fourth-straight year of falling crime in February, hundreds of beatings, stabbings and child abuse cases were missing from the count, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.
More than 500 incidents since 2009 were misreported to the FBI as minor assaults and not included in the city’s violent crime rate, the investigation found. That tally is based on a review of cases that resulted in charges – only about one-fifth of all reported crimes.
Yet the misreported cases found in 2011 alone are enough that Flynn would have been announcing a 1.1% increase in violent crime in February, instead of a 2.3% decline from the reported 2010 numbers, which also include errors.
These crimes included horrific assaults on children, and numerous incidents in which a fair bit of blood was spilled. A key tactic in cooking the Milwaukee crime statistics involved misreporting the type of weapon involved, to avoid triggering a higher-level review of the cases… even when the weapons in question were firearms.
And the Journal-Sentinel’s tally, reached with the help of FBI crime experts, included only five hundred confirmed incidents. “The investigation found at least 800 more that fit the same pattern but could not be confirmed through available public records,” the paper reported. The story could get a lot worse as they keep digging:
“Misreporting is cheating the public,” said Michael Maltz, criminology professor at Ohio State University. He called the Journal Sentinel findings just “the tip of the iceberg.”
“If they are playing fast and loose, they will do it with the cases they don’t send to the prosecutor,” said Maltz, senior researcher at the university’s Criminal Justice Research Center. “If it’s this bad at this level, how bad can it be on the cases that don’t reach eye level?”
Other experts assured the Journal-Sentinel that the problem was clearly systemic, not a few clumsy mistakes made at random.
This would be a fascinating case study of the difficulties involved in compelling government to accurately report upon its own activities – a topic of great interest, given the wave of statistics constantly crashing against the minds of voters – but there’s a more immediate political dimension to the crime situation in Milwaukee, because Republican Governor Scott Walker’s opponent in the impending recall election, Tom Barrett, just happens to be the mayor of that troubled city. He has touted the false crime statistics both in speeches, and on his website.
There’s no evidence that Barrett, or police chief Edward Flynn, ordered the books to be cooked; the Journal-Sentinel is uncertain how high up the totem pole this strategy originated. Contrary to the analysis offered by the newspaper’s crime experts, Flynn attributes the misreporting to data processing errors. A lot of data processing errors.
Still, it’s not a good story for Barrett, with the recall election looming on June 5. Walker is generally seen to be ahead, beyond the margin of error in most polls. Discovering that Barrett’s resume has been fact-checked as thoroughly as an Obama biography is an unpleasant surprise.
On the other hand, anyone seriously thinking about sacking the man who wiped out Wisconsin’s apocalyptic budget deficit without raising taxes, and giving the job to the mayor of the state’s unemployment sinkhole, probably isn’t looking too carefully at their records anyway.