According to the Los Angeles Times, the LAPD incorrectly classified nearly 1,200 violent crimes that occurred between October 2012 and September 2013, allowing hundreds of stabbings, beatings, and robberies to be categorized as minor offenses.
This resulted in the LAPD being perceived as doing a better job than it actually was; because the crimes were considered minor offenses, they were not recorded in the LAPD’s published statistics on serious crime.
Virtually all of the 1,200 crimes were aggravated assaults, which, if factored into the LAPD’s statistics, would have shown figures for aggravated assaults 14% higher than what was reported and violent crimes almost 7% higher.
There were differences of opinion as to whether the misrepresentation was intentional or not. Some argued that it was accidental; others asserted that there was pressure from the LAPD hierarchy to report crime figures lower than they actually were.
Every year, the LAPD’s 21 divisions are instructed to meet certain goals for serious crimes. Det. Tom Vettraino, who spent 31 years with the LAPD, said, “Whenever you reported a serious crime, they would find any way possible to make it a minor crime. We were spending all this time addressing what the crime should be called, instead of dealing with the crime itself. It’s ridiculous.”
The LAPD told the Times that the LAPD “does not in any way encourage manipulating crime reporting or falsifying data.” The department also said that with 100,000 serious offenses to report every year, mistakes are inevitable. Arif Alikhan, a senior policy adviser to Police Chief Charlie Beck, said, “We recognize there is an error rate. It’s important to us to do what we can to reduce that error rate… [the LAPD] is relying on that data to determine where we are going to send cops… how we actually do things to prevent crime.”
Beck only said categorizing crimes is “a complex process that is subject to human error.” The Times found, however, that crimes were virtually always misclassified as less serious than they actually were, not more serious.
One example was John Elder, a veteran detective who had lessened almost 100 serious assaults to minor offenses in a seven-month period in 2008. He asserted that it was accidental, but his commanding officer, Capt. Steven Zipperman, said Elder had tried to “cook the books.”
According to the Times, “Officers said it is widely believed that if their division repeatedly fails to meet targets for crime reduction, their chances of being promoted will be seriously harmed.” The Times quoted Patrick Barron, a 30-year veteran with the LAPD, who said the LAPD’s numbers game has “grown into a dog and pony show, a resource sucker, a cause for fear. Detectives should be worried about making sure their cases are thoroughly investigated and their victims and witnesses are treated with dignity. They shouldn’t be worried about the statistics.”