Police chief explains crime report errors

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, June 29, 2016


AMERICUS — Earlier this month, Americus Police Chief Mark Scott  sent out a press release concerning errors in reporting crimes. In that release, hr explained that his department uses a computerized records management system to generate all crime reports and to keep statistical information on crimes reported within the city. This information is in turn shared with the FBI.
In 2014, following news reports in some local media that the city had a burglary and violent crime rate much higher than other cities in this area, the police chief conducted an internal audit of crime statistics which the department had reported to the FBI over the past few years. The audit discovered that due to a coding error in the initial setup of the program tables, the crime statistics generated by the program each month for submission to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program were incorrect. The computer program was counting a large number of thefts as more serious burglaries, causing the city’s burglary rate to be reported as almost double what it actually was. The program was also incorrectly coding many minor assaults as aggravated assaults, causing the violent crime rate to appear much higher than it actually was.
The coding errors were corrected in late 2015, and new procedures have been put in place to check the crime numbers generated by the software before they are submitted to the FBI. The Americus Police Department is filing an appeal with the FBI to get the published data corrected.
Chief Scott, who has been here only a few months, said when he first arrived, he kept hearing that Americus was a “burglary capital,” He said that one local publication (not the Americus Times-Recorder) continued to write about this and the new chief was seeing maybe one burglary a week. He wondered, “How could we possibly have 600 burglaries a year when I’m looking at one or two a week? That’s just not possible.”
Scott met with Maj. Herman Lamar and Lamar confirmed that there had been an issue with how crimes were reported and it was resolved last year, and moving forward it will be correct. Scott requested that Lamar get with the Municipal Court Clerk Janet Shelley and go back for four years, look at the actual records, by hand, month to month.
“She [Shelley] keeps manual records every month and compares them to what the computer says and they try to reconcile any differences,” Scott said. “What they found out was the stuff they were printing out on the computer was pretty much correct. Then there was a separate part of the program that was doing automated reporting that was wrong. It was, in the background, sending this stuff off to the FBI that was just wrong because it was coded wrong.”
Scott said the mistake was caught in June 2015, and it took a month or two to get it corrected, “so the first half of the year is still skewed; the second half should be correct,” he said.
Scott has been in contact with data specialists with the FBI and sent them the corrected data for 2015.
“They will correct it in their database ,but they’ve already published the incorrect data,” he said. “We can’t pull that back. If someone goes to the UCR website and looks at the pdf version of the 2015 data, they will see the wrong numbers. But if they use the FBI’s automated database to run queries, it will be correct, once they make the corrections. And 2016, going forward, will be correct.”
The number of crimes reported didn’t change after the coding correction was made, but now crimes are being reported correctly.
“The system was not reporting rapes and homicides and it was not. When we but put our numbers we show that we had four,” Scott said. “They said we had no rapes but we have eight reported. We were trying to be transparent. I could have just shown the number for burglary and larceny but I showed all our numbers. Some went up; some went down.
“In the changes in the actual number of crimes, there were some crimes that fall into the category of Part II. And what the URC deals with is what they call Part I crimes which are the ones that are listed. Part II crime is a city offense such as loitering, littering, public drunkenness … Some of our Part II crimes were being counted as Part I. One year [2012] it shows over 100 actual total crimes less, those were Part II crimes that were counted as Part I. The total number went down 110 so that was 110 Part II crimes that were counted as Part I which were put back in Part II. There were 92 in 2013. In 2014, we had actually three more when we did the count Part I that had not bee counted, so I put those in, too.
So how did the system go wrong?
“I don’t know,” the chief said. “I asked them to go back four years. This program was installed in 2002, so it’s possible that we’ve been over-reporting for 13 years. More than likely we have been over-reporting. It looks like it was originally set up incorrectly. What really brought it to the forefront was in 2014, when we had a rash of entered autos and it made our burglaries go through the roof.
“It should have been a red flag. The reports they we were running and filing every month looked correct. Only when you get to the end of the year and you go back and see what the FBI had published, that we discovered that what was being sent to them and what we were seeing were not the same.”
“The department is hoping that the citizens of Americus will help to spread the word that the city’s crime rate is not out of line with other cities in this area and Americus is NOT the burglary capital of South Georgia,” he concluded.