Los Angeles police officials Tuesday announced a series of reforms to improve the accuracy of the city's crime statistics, saying reporting errors undermine the public's trust in the department.
Crime reporting "is a critical aspect of what we do," said Assistant Chief Michel Moore, noting that the data is used to determine where to assign patrols units and develop other crime fighting strategies. "Garbage in equals garbage out."
At the civilian Police Commission's weekly meeting, Moore said the changes were meant to ensure "clear, accurate and dependable statistics … so that people can rely on the information we provide."
Under the Los Angeles Police Department's plan, supervisors, clerks and detectives are undergoing training to better understand how to classify crimes under federal reporting guidelines that police departments nationwide follow. And a new rule will place the onus on station supervisors to correctly classify crimes.
The changes come after a Times investigation this summer that found the department reported a significant number of serious violent crimes as minor offenses. The errors artificially lowered the city's official crime figures.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the Times report had been "the impetus for a lot of" the reforms.
"Even though we believed that we were good at this, especially as compared to … the rest of the profession, we weren't good enough and this will make us better," said Beck in response to a question from Commission President Steve Soboroff.
The reforms come as the LAPD is poised to finish the year with an increase in violent crime for the first time in more than a decade.
So far this year, overall violent crime has increased 11% compared with the same time period in 2013, according to LAPD figures. The city has experienced a double-digit rise in rapes and a slight uptick in homicides and robberies. But the largest increase has come in aggravated assaults, which are up more than 20%. The rise in such assaults, officials have said, is partly due to the department's efforts to improve its crime reporting, which has led to a more accurate count of serious assaults.
To carry out the reforms, the department formed the Data Integrity Unit — a small team of detectives and data analysts. Over the last few weeks, the unit has put about 400 station supervisors, senior detectives and clerical staff through a four-hour training course on how to properly classify crimes to be in line with federal reporting guidelines, senior analyst John Neuman told the commission.
In coming months, the unit is expected to add staff and take on more responsibilities, including serving as a "strike team" that will inspect crime reports at the department's 21 divisions, Neuman said.
The department also plans a simple but significant change in its procedures for classifying crimes. Watch commanders — the lieutenants and sergeants who must approve officers' crime reports — will be required to document how each incident should be classified in the department's crime database.
The move is intended to reduce confusion and misunderstandings, in particular among civilian records clerks who currently are left to decipher reports and make decisions about how to classify crimes.
"At the end of the day, we are far better served … to get it right out of the gate," Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said in an interview.
To assist watch commanders, detailed charts were created that provide step-by-step instructions for deciding whether an incident falls into one of the serious crime categories used by police departments to calculate crime rates.
The Times investigation found the LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses during a recent one-year period ending in September 2013. Had the misclassified crimes been recorded correctly, the official figure for violent crime during that period would have been nearly 7% higher. Almost all the misclassified crimes were aggravated assaults, which would have been almost 14% higher during that time.
The investigation found hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies misclassified as minor offenses that were not counted in the city's violent crime statistics.
In one incident, two men choked and beat a neighbor with a metal bar until he lost consciousness. In another, a man suffered third-degree burns when his girlfriend poured boiling water on him as he slept. Both cases fit the criteria for aggravated assault but were recorded as minor offenses.
Several detectives, patrol supervisors and officers told The Times much of the problem stemmed from relentless, top-down pressure to meet crime reduction goals.
This summer, Beck and other department officials said the department had cut down on crime reporting errors in recent years, but acknowledged problems persisted and promised changes.
After the Times report, the commission's inspector general launched an audit into the department's crime statistics. That report is expected to be completed next year.