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LAPD captain accuses department of twisting crime statistics to make city seem safer

A Los Angeles Police Department captain has accused high-ranking members of the force of misclassifying violent crime and misleading the public about the true state of lawbreaking in the city.

Capt. Lillian Carranza, who oversees the LAPD’s Van Nuys station, alleged in a claim filed against the city last week that she began notifying superiors in 2014 about the underreporting of crime in the Foothill area, which includes Pacoima, Sunland and Tujunga — but no action was taken.

After assuming command of the Van Nuys station in 2015, she conducted her own analysis of violent crime reports stored in an LAPD database, according to the claim. The eight-page claim, which typically precedes a civil court lawsuit, did not include the raw data Carranza used in her analysis.

Aggravated assaults in 2016 were underreported by about 10% in the Pacific and Central divisions, according to the claim, which alleges that those cases were misclassified as less serious offenses.

The LAPD, according to Carranza’s complaint, “engaged in a highly complex and elaborate coverup in an attempt to hide the fact that command officers had been providing false crime figures to the public attempting to convince the public that crime was not significantly increasing.”

More recent analysis of the Hollenbeck and Mission divisions by Carranza also showed a 10% undercounting of aggravated assaults in 2017, according to her claim.

The LAPD did not comment on Carranza’s allegations, citing the pending litigation. But in a statement issued by LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein, the department touted the accuracy of its crime statistics and the development of a special unit that scrutinizes its data.

“When errors are found, records are corrected and additional training and other corrective action is taken,” the statement said.

“Integrity in all we say and do is a core value for the department and any accusation related to the accuracy of our reports will be taken very seriously and investigated as a potential disciplinary matter.”

Carranza lodged multiple complaints about the data discrepancies and in September was told by a supervisor that she would not receive a promotion to commander because she was “meddling into others’ business,” according to the claim. She is seeking damages for lost wages and pension money from missing the promotion as well as for emotional distress and unspecified physical injuries.

The allegations come after a 2014 Los Angeles Times investigation found that the LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013. Beatings, stabbings and robberies that should have been classified as aggravated assaults instead were recorded as minor offenses. If recorded correctly, the figures for aggravated assaults in the year-long period would have been nearly 14% higher, The Times found.

The newspaper also found that from 2005 to fall 2012, the LAPD misclassified an estimated 14,000 aggravated assaults as minor offenses, artificially lowering the city's violent crime rate.

After The Times’ reports, a 2015 audit by the LAPD’s inspector general estimated the department misclassified more than 25,000 aggravated assaults as minor incidents from 2008 to 2014.

The erroneous figures "were due to a combination of systemic issues, procedural deficiencies, department-wide misconceptions about what constitutes an aggravated assault, and, in a small number of cases, individual officer error," the audit found.

After the reports, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck acknowledged that the process of recording crimes had problems and he implemented changes to increase accountability and training on classification. Among the reforms was the creation of a Data Integrity Unit, consisting of a small team of detectives and data analysts responsible for improving crime reporting.

In her claim, Carranza said she notified the Data Integrity Unit about the discrepancies in violent crime reporting. “However, no action was taken,” her claim stated.

Times staff writer Ben Poston contributed to this report.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno

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