City’s crime rate could be big mistake?

Posted on 12 Jul 2007 at 8:54pm
By David Webb – The Rare Reporter

Crime fight led to DPD putting public lewdness suspects’ names, photos on Web site



David Webb: The Rare Reporter

The Dallas Police Department revealed this week that it has been reporting crimes to the FBI incorrectly for years, perhaps causing the city to erroneously be ranked as the most crime-ridden spot in the country.

For years, I thought I lived in the most dangerous city in America and expressed that concern to out-of-state friends who were shocked to hear about Dallas’ top ranking. What a stunner it was to learn that it was merely an accounting problem of sorts.

It seems, according to a report in The Dallas Morning News, that for as far back as anyone can remember Dallas police have been counting every single car a burglar breaks into in a matter of a few minutes in an apartment complex as separate crimes, whereas other cities have been reporting one burglar’s similar activities as a single crime. The same applied to other minor crimes such as vandalism and small thefts but not to murder, rape and other more serious crimes.

The implications are enormous. The city’s crime rate was the top topic in the mayoral race, former Chief of Police Terrell Bolton was fired four years ago in part because of the city’s over-the-top crime rate, and it likely has led to higher automobile and home insurance rates just to name a few.

We now know that, try as they might, there was no way Dallas police could get the city down off its perch at the top of the nation’s crime wave. The deck was stacked against them.

The failure of police to bring down the crime rate had so alarmed some city officials that they accused other cities of cheating on the data they reported. That failing, they decided to roll up their sleeves and draft a plan to force the police to take corrective action. They set up goals and new practices to deter crimes.

One of those deterrents was to start publishing a Web site three years ago, administered by the vice squad, posting the names and pictures of people arrested for prostitution, indecent exposure and public lewdness. It was part of a desperate plan to bring down Dallas’ crime rate the idea being that people would be so humiliated by the prospect that they wouldn’t commit those crimes.

Another was the “lock, take and hide” campaign to reduce the number of car burglaries and thefts. City officials had identified car burglaries as one of the primary forces behind Dallas’ spiraling crime rate.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that either program has worked that well to deter those types of crime. A comparison of the 2006 and 2007 crime rates for the first six months of the year reportedly show a .06 percent increase in all crime, driven mostly by non-violent crime.

The mug shots and names of people who commit misdemeanor sex crimes such as public lewdness keep rolling across the police department’s Web site. That has led to the media reporting about prominent individuals caught in vice squad stings who otherwise might have been overlooked.

It must have come as a huge shock to past and present city officials this week to realize that Dallas wasn’t so much crime ridden as its staff was mistake prone. Apparently, no one had thought of conferring with other cities about how they kept their crime rates in check or to read the instructions.

Just last weekend, a police supervisor in the Uniform Crime Report unit discovered the time and place rule in FBI guidelines and figured out what the problem was. Can you imagine the light bulb going off in the guy’s head when he realized the implications?

So problem solved. City officials are hoping the city will now move down the list to something more respectable say like number five where it already sits in regards to murder and Dallas will become more attractive to relocating businesses, new residents and overall economic development.

There’s just one little problem with that theory as far as I can see. How can you have an accurate crime count if you don’t know how many victims there were? I suspect every single vehicle owner who got hit in an apartment complex by a burglar feels like they deserve to be treated as a separate crime victim in the statistics. I know I would if I went outside and found my car broken into and the stereo system missing.

To the Dallas Police Department’s credit, I think they were reporting the crimes in the way it made the most sense. But when it comes to government work, that’s not always a major consideration.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2007

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