Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday ordered an independent review of the Sheriff Department's crime statistics following a Times investigation that revealed problems with the Los Angeles Police Department's reporting of violent crimes.
Calling the reports of crime data misclassified by the LAPD "very troubling," Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich asked for the review by the newly installed watchdog over the Sheriff's Department, Inspector General Max Huntsman.
"Accurate classification of crimes is not only important for crime reporting purposes but for making informed policy decisions and earning the public's trust," Antonovich said.
The Times reported this week that the LAPD had misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses during a recent one-year period. Had the crimes been recorded correctly, the official figure for violent crime overall would have been nearly 7% higher. Almost all the misclassified crimes were aggravated assaults, which would have been almost 14% higher.
On Monday, LAPD Inspector General Alex Bustamante said he would launch an audit of multiple years of crime data to evaluate whether declines in crime in the city were as dramatic as reported by the department.
The Sheriff's Department provides law enforcement services to more than 40 of the county's 88 cities, as well as to about 1 million residents of unincorporated areas, Antonovich said.
"It is important that these communities and the victims have the confidence in the Sheriff's Department's crime reporting data," he said.
Antonovich did not specify how many cases Huntsman should examine or over what time period. He asked the inspector general to report back to the board in 30 days.
In the next month, Huntsman said, he plans to pull samples of incident reports to determine what percentage were recorded accurately according to FBI crime reporting guidelines.
He also wants to meet with sheriff's officials to better understand their crime classification process and identify any weak spots that might be ripe for a broader audit in the future.
"It's more like a canary in a coal mine," Huntsman said. "If the canary dies, then we'll know there is a lot of gas out there. If the canary looks healthy, then we just know there isn't any gas in this room. We'll start that way and see what we find."
Like the LAPD, the Sheriff's Department uses data to track trends and hold commanders accountable for rising crime in their areas, Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans said.
Rothans holds "crime accountability" meetings each Monday to measure activity in patrol divisions, devise strategies to fight crime and deploy resources.
The Sheriff's Department conducts yearly audits at each of its stations to judge the accuracy of data on issues such as crime classification and clearance rates.
Based on The Times' investigation of LAPD crime data this week, Rothans asked the Sheriff's Crime Assessment Center to audit assault reporting at the Century, Compton, East L.A. and South L.A. sheriff's stations. These four stations have shown significant decreases in serious assaults so far this year compared to the same period last year.
Still, past audits have shown more evidence of over-reporting of serious crime, Rothans said.
"I'm confident that we're not intentionally manipulating crime statistics to show lower crime," he said. "But human error is human error, and sometimes mistakes are made. And that's what these audits are for."