Opinion
Grading City Hall: See our report card for L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson
Editorial
Opinion Editorial
Editorial

LAPD's faulty crime data

Misclassification of violent crimes reveals serious flaws in LAPD's data-driven policies
Mayor Eric Garcetti should hold LAPD leaders accountable for inaccurate crime statistics

Over the last decade, Los Angeles has made the CompStat crime mapping system the foundation of the Police Department, with crime statistics informing decisions on where to deploy officers and how to make the city safer. The LAPD's data-driven policing has been credited with reducing crime for 11 straight years, and has been held up as a model for managing other city agencies.

But as with any statistical analysis, CompStat is only as good as the data it's based on. That's why city leaders should be very troubled by a Times investigation that found the LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses during a recent one-year period. The analysis determined that hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies were reported as simple assaults, meaning they were not included in the tally of serious crimes — and that L.A. was less safe than official statistics suggested.

Department brass characterized the misclassifications as inevitable in a complex data collection system. Chief Charlie Beck said the process was "subject to human error." However, the analysis found that offenses were almost always miscoded to turn a serious crime into a minor one, not the other way around, indicating that there may be a deeper problem than human error. Some department insiders pointed to the tremendous pressure on captains and lieutenants to meet the crime reduction goals set by higher-ups, and said that deliberate miscoding is a common practice. If so, it undermines the LAPD's data-driven strategy. Command staff can't identify violent crime trends if incidents are misclassified.

It's also worrisome that audits flagged this problem three years ago, but that the department took steps only this year to improve the accuracy of its crime statistics through training and increased scrutiny — after inquiries by The Times. Several months later, the department reported that aggravated assaults were up 12% for the first six months of the year — a steep increase that Mayor Eric Garcetti downplayed as the result of "more aggressive reporting."

Now, Garcetti must demonstrate that he will hold Beck and the department accountable for inaccurate statistics. The mayor wants to introduce the CompStat model to all city departments as a way to improve services and to measure performance, but the LAPD example should raise red flags about how metrics can be misused. It's unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable, that in a high-pressure, results-driven system, some individuals will cheat.

The Police Commission, which is considering Tuesday whether to reappoint Beck, should press the chief on how he would prevent deliberate misclassification in the future. The concern is that Beck and his command staff may have created an environment in which personnel believe they have to cook the books in order to succeed. If that's the case, the LAPD is on a shaky foundation.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

 

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Reappoint Charlie Beck as police chief

    Reappoint Charlie Beck as police chief

    Should Charlie Beck be reappointed? Yes. But that answer would be expected from someone the chief has called his partner in police reform for 12 years.

  • Senate maneuvering spares Planned Parenthood -- for now

    Senate maneuvering spares Planned Parenthood -- for now

    A series of hidden-camera videos by anti-abortion activists capturing Planned Parenthood executives discussing tissue harvesting from aborted fetuses has renewed calls by Republicans to eliminate all federal support for the organization. But as bad as it's been lately in Washington for Planned...

  • Fast-tracking VA firings makes for bad policy

    Fast-tracking VA firings makes for bad policy

    The scandals that rocked the federal Department of Veterans Affairs last year rightly had some high-reaching consequences, including toppling secretary Eric K. Shinseki. Whether Shinseki’s successor, Robert McDonald, has been able to effect much of a cultural change within the department that provides,...

  • Can a Dear Cal letter get you into Berkeley?

    Can a Dear Cal letter get you into Berkeley?

    High school seniors vying for acceptance at UC Berkeley face daunting odds. Until about 50 years ago, Cal admitted any applicant with a B average in college-prep classes. As recently as 1985, the acceptance rate was above 50%. With a record 79,000 applicants in 2014, Berkeley now admits only 17%,...

  • Behind the DWP rate hike: Where will that money really go?

    Behind the DWP rate hike: Where will that money really go?

    The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is asking customers to pay significantly higher rates over the next five years — from 13% to 34% more — to meet a crush of environmental regulations and fund long-delayed infrastructure upgrades and renewable energy projects.

  • Drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea isn't worth the risk

    Drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea isn't worth the risk

    The Obama administration is being at least somewhat more cautious this time around in allowing Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea. The company must keep its drills from reaching the oil reserves until it has the equipment in place that can shut down a well in case...

  • Richard Henry Dana's second act

    Richard Henry Dana's second act

    Richard Henry Dana Jr. told no one that he was turning 28 because, he wrote on Aug. 1, 1843, “birthdays are not pleasant occasions for hilarity with me and friends always feel bound to make them so.” Nevertheless, I trust Dana would have been delighted to know that friends of his classic “Two Years...

  • Would L.A. be better off without the Olympics?

    Would L.A. be better off without the Olympics?

    As epic collapses go, Boston's bid to host the 2024 Olympics wins points for speed, if nothing else. On Monday, Mayor Marty Walsh announced that he didn't intend to sign the International Olympic Committee's required pledge to cover any cost overruns on the Summer Games. Within hours, the U.S....

Comments
Loading
73°