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Report: The LAPD Classified Over 1,000 Violent Assaults As Lesser Crimes

LAPD Building in DTLA (Photo by Ernesto A via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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The LAPD has labeled over 1,000 cases of violent assault as minor offenses, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times. It looks like what fans of "The Wire" would call "juking the stats": downgrading serious crimes makes it look like the police department is doing a better job at fighting crime than it actually is.The Times, which looked at crime reports from October 2012 to September 2013, says that the LAPD underreported instances of serious crime, mostly assault, which skewed the numbers used to judge how well the department is performing. The most common error was turning aggravated assault, in which a weapon is used or the victim is seriously hurt, into simple assault, in which the aggressor does not use a dangerous weapon and the victim is not seriously injured. In this case, the total number of aggravated assaults was actually 14 percent higher, and violent crime was 7 percent higher overall.

These numbers are used to figure out where crime is happening and where officers are most needed. Less serious crimes do not appear on the maps that the department's tracking software builds.

To arrive at these numbers, Times reporters went through the reports for over 94,000 crimes and noted summaries that indicated a serious crime like aggravated assault had been committed. They ended up with a list of 2,000 crimes that they felt were not classified properly. Of these, 1,400 were violent crimes and the rest were property crimes. They then divided 400 of these cases as samples to five experts in crime-reporting to review. In 90 percent of these sample cases, the experts agreed with the reporters that the crimes had been classified incorrectly.

The LAPD itself then reviewed 200 sample cases of assault and agreed in 89 percent of those cases.

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Some examples in particular included a woman who poured boiling water on a sleeping boyfriend, beatings and stabbings. These qualify as 'aggravated assault,' but many of these were instead classified as 'simple assault' or other lesser crimes.

There are multiple stages a report passes through before it becomes a logged statistic. The responding officer writes in his report what crime he or she thinks is being committed. A station supervisor has to okay that report, then passes it off to a clerk, who enters it into a crime database. Later, a detective has to check it over and approve the classification.

Of course, the LAPD's response to the Times said that they do not "in any way encourage manipulating crime reporting or falsifying data." They also said that mistakes are inevitable, but that they're getting better at providing more accurate numbers. Some current and retired officers gave The Times reasons for why this misreporting might be happening, which included human error and pressure from higher ups to meet certain goals.

All the human error talk aside, the Times also noted that when a misclassification occurred, it was almost always a bigger crime turned into a lesser one. Eli Silverman, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told them that if it were mostly all human error, there would be mistakes in either direction.

Misreporting does not mean that the offenders are not being jailed correctly. Arif Alikhan, a former federal prosecutor and Homeland Security official, who is now a senior policy advisor to LAPD's Chief Beck, told the Times that it is true that crime has decreased in L.A. in the last 11 years. Even if the mistakes are being made, the rate of misclassification is the same.

This year, LAPD worked on making their crime statistics more accurate, and that might explain the weird increase in violent crime: aggravated assaults increased 12 percent in the first six months of 2014. Through August, assault is up 14.8 percent, and violent crime has increased 5.2 percent.