Following a Los Angeles Times investigation that revealed the LAPD underreported violent crimes, the agency's civilian watchdog said Monday he would launch a broad inquiry into the accuracy of the department's crime statistics.
Alex Bustamante, inspector general for the Police Commission, said he will examine crime data recorded by the Los Angeles Police Department over multiple years to assess whether drops in crime reported by the department in past years are accurate.
FOR THE RECORD
Aug. 11, 3:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of criminologist James Alan Fox as James Allen Fox.
The Times' review found LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 serious violent crimes as minor offenses during a recent one-year period. Had the incidents been recorded correctly, the level of serious assaults in the city during that time would have been almost 14% higher than what the LAPD reported and overall violent crime would have jumped nearly 7% higher, The Times found.
Members of the police commission, which oversees the department, expressed concern that inaccurate crime reporting left officers and the public with an incomplete and faulty understanding of crime in the city.
"We must … make sure that future reports are accurate, both to be fully transparent, but also to make sure deployment of resources reflects the true incidence of crime," commissioner Robert Saltzman said.
The Times' findings have already prompted internal changes in how the department records crime, LAPD officials said.
"I want to thank the L.A. Times for its analysis of our processes which identified a similar error rate for aggravated assaults as our previously released audits," Chief Charlie Beck said in a prepared statement. "This most recent review has enabled us to identify and implement additional methods to reduce the error rate" in classifying assaults.
The controversy over crime reporting comes as the commission is scheduled to vote this week on whether to reappoint Beck to a second five-year term in office. Beck has been criticized recently for inconsistent handling of discipline cases and a lack of transparency with his five commission bosses.
Saltzman said the revelations about misclassified crimes are the latest in a string of issues that have raised questions of whether "a culture that inappropriate behavior is acceptable as long as it is not discovered" has taken root in the LAPD.
"It has been a rough few weeks for the LAPD," he said. "In my view, the LAPD is better than this. The Department is filled with men and women who work hard every day to protect and serve the city. The chief and his command officers need to make sure that the everyday hard work of the officers stops being overshadowed by controversies such as this one."
Bustamante said his investigation would include "obtaining all documents, identifying and investigating all involved parties and critiquing measures used by the department. To the extent our investigation uncovers issues, they will be reported immediately to the police commission."
Department officials said Monday that past internal audits reached similar conclusions as The Times' investigation. Those audits, however, did not explain to the public or commissioners that the city's violent crime rate would have been significantly higher had misclassified crimes been counted correctly.
Commission President Steve Soboroff said: "What is important is that there is integrity in the process and that the public has the perception that there is integrity in the process."
Criminologist James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University, agreed. He said flawed crime statistics can hurt public confidence in a police department.
"The bigger issue is the issue of trust," Fox said. "How can we believe the crime trends when the people collecting data are the same who report the numbers and use it as a measure of success or failure?"