MEANINGFUL, UNIFORM AND ACCURATE CRIME DATA from The Exemplary Policing Agency by Michael Josephson


Crime data needs to be correct and complete.  Numbers increasingly fuel policing strategies. We must guarantee that the fuel is free of damaging contaminants. John A. Eterno and Eli B. Silverman

Exemplary Standard IIB.  Produce and Publish Accurate and Current Reports. The agency employs data collection and crime classification policies and procedures to ensure that all incidences of crimes are documented with uniformity and integrity in readily accessible and easy to understand reports.

Though the effectiveness of a policing agency in preventing and reducing crime cannot be measured by crime rate data alone, such data, if properly compiled and reported, provides a meaningful measure of success. In addition to properly classified incidences of crime other important measures of effectiveness include arrest and clearance rates as well as the percentage of arrests that resulted in prosecutions and convictions. See Exemplary Standard II.

Many policing agencies have found themselves embroiled in credibility damaging allegations of manipulation to create false or misleading impressions on the effectiveness of the agency in preventing and reducing crime. There is ample evidence that that crime rate (incidences of reported crime), clearance rates and similar data can be misleading and can be manipulated.[1]

IIB1. Credibility and Integrity. To assure the credibility of the agency and integrity of reports regarding the prevention and reduction of crime, the agency provides rigorously enforced policies and protocols policies to guide the exercise of discretion in the classification of crimes.

Though the FBI has set standards for the classification of reported crime under the UCR, there are still many ways a creative officer or agency can manipulate data to make the agency look better. There is, and needs to be, a great deal of discretion in labeling the reported crime and reasonable professionals can disagree on whether an offense is a felony or misdemeanor, whether aggravating factors existed and, in light of the available evidence, what is the best charge.To protect its credibility and provide reliable data regard its performance in preventing and reducing crime, an exemplary agency adopts and adheres to strict protocols to ensure that its reports are clear and accurate, driven by an honest desire to objectively assess performance. Honest and objective performance data is crucial to ongoing improvement efforts and to provide the community and the agency’s governing bodies with critical facts bearing on the agency’s effectiveness.

Because a lack of consistency, objectivity as well as an intent to deceive can greatly damage the credibility of an agency and fuel efforts to discredit the police and undermine community trust, exemplary departments provides training and policies to guide the exercise of discretion.

IIB2. Neighborhood Level Crime Data.  An exemplary agency provides the public with current detailed crime data at a neighborhood level to help them assess crime and safety risks where they live or are considering as a new residence.

While reliable data about incidences of crime and clearance rates is a crucial aspect of performance evaluation of an agency, such information is also important to members of the public to help them assess crime and safety risks where they live or are considering as a new residence. The ability of an agency to provide the community with current detailed crime data at a neighborhood level has increased dramatically with new software and sophisticated police department websites. Larger departments may have the capacity to develop methods of compiling and presenting such information,[2] smaller agencies do not. All departments, however, have the option of using any one of a growing number of third party vendors and websites that provide detailed crime reports.[3]

Exemplary Standard IIC. Increasing Citizen Reports of Crime. The agency employs community policing strategies to create a community culture where citizens in all neighborhoods report crimes with confidence that they will be kept safe and that the agency will diligently attempt to identify, apprehend and convict the offender.

 All crime rate data understate reality because many crimes are not reported, especially in high crime neighborhoods where citizens are reluctant to report crimes for various reasons such as fear of immigration enforcement or retaliation from the criminals, a lack of confidence that the police can or will do anything meaningful, or hostility toward and lack of trust in their policing agency.

The willingness of citizens to report crimes is a powerful measure of legitimacy and trust. Thus, a strategic goal of an exemplary agency is to create a culture where citizens report crimes with confidence that they can be kept safe and that the police have the commitment and resources to identify and apprehend offenders.

As the agency improves its relationships with segments of the community that have been distrustful and dissatisfied with the police, crime rates will appear to spike upward as the reporting rate increases. Thus, with in evaluating the agency’s performance crime rate data, it’s important to make the agency’s governing body and the public aware that successful efforts to increase crime reporting may create the impression that incidences of crime are increasing.

[1] See The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation, by John A. Eterno, Eli B. Silverman, CRC Press (2012). Based on extensive research on NYPD crime data prior to and including 2010 the authors report that a major source of data inaccuracy is that officers recording were under strong pressures to manipulate crime reports to make the agency look good. They concluded that the department’s particular use of the CompStat model puts pressure on police commanders to keep crime statistics down in their districts to avoid being embarrassed by bosses in front of their peers. In a subsequent article, Ray Kelly’s Cynical Stat War, New York Daily News, January 3, 2016 the authors call for an ongoing independent audit of crime data. In 2014, Chicago magazine conducted an extensive 12-month examination of the Chicago Police Department’s crime statistics. They concluded that dramatic reduction in crime reported by the agency from 2010-2013 was manufactured. Focusing on “index crimes”: —homicides, criminal sexual assaults, robberies, aggravated batteries/assaults, burglaries, thefts, motor vehicle thefts, and incidents of arson —the eight violent and property crimes that almost all U.S. cities supply to the FBI, the agency reported that these crimes plunged by 56 percent from 2010 to 2013—an average of nearly 19 percent per year – a result believed to be not possible. Spurred by this investigative report, the Chicago’s Independent Inspector General conducted an audit and concluded that Chicago crime data did not report about a quarter of the aggravated assault and aggravated battery victims in its crime statistics in 2012 because the department failed to follow state guidelines by counting each aggravated assault or battery as one incident, not each victim as it should have,

[2] Los Angeles Police Department,; In 2016, the New York Police Department added to its website its most current and sophisticated crime reporting tool, Comstat 2.0,

[3],,; At this writing, the Houston Police Department uses the crime mapping system of but it requires those who want to access the data to read and agree to an extensive disclaimer concerning the accuracy of the data: . “DISCLAIMER: Under the direction of the Houston Police Department, a third party Public Crime Mapping vendor presents an interactive crime map showing locations of crimes and corresponds with a data table which lists dates, places, and types of crimes for the current period. The Crime Data represents basic/general data of incidents based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report coding system. The data may or may not have been screened through the Houston Police Department’s quality control process and therefore may reflect: Information not yet verified by further investigation, Information that may include mechanical or human error. Preliminary crime classifications that may be changed at a later date based upon further investigation. When reviewing the Crime Data, the site user should consider that: The information represents only police services where a report was made and does not include other calls for police service. The information does not reflect or certify “safe” or “unsafe” areas. Areas with a high volume of foot traffic, vehicle traffic, and if densely populated may have more reported crimes than other areas. This does not necessarily mean more crime occurs there, but that more crime is reported there. Results displayed are not distinguished as attempted or completed crimes. Users should not rely on nor make decisions or comparisons based solely on the data offered on this web site; but should conduct additional independent verification and due diligence. The information will sometimes reflect where the crime was reported versus where the crime occurred. The use of the Crime Data indicates the site user’s unconditional acceptance of all risks associated with the use of the Crime Data.”



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