The LAPD says violent crime is down. Great. Trust but verify

It may well be that LAPD Capt. Lillian Carranza’s claims that the department intentionally underreports violent crime are nothing but “damn lies,” as Chief Charlie Beck said earlier this week. Los Angeles is nationally recognized for the integrity of its gathering and reporting of crime numbers. It has a data integrity unit that scours the reports to ensure that the books are not cooked. And Carranza has a personal ax to grind — her allegations come as part of a claim in which she says she was denied a promotion.

Still, it would be easier to dismiss her assertions out of hand were it not for the fact that a 2014 Times investigation found widespread misclassification of violent crimes as minor offenses, and if the LAPD’s inspector general had not made similar findings in an audit the following year. The department was indeed underreporting violent crime in L.A.

Those errors apparently were unintentional, according to the inspector general’s report. But the LAPD now has a record of releasing bad numbers, so it’s hard to have unqualified confidence in the face of new allegations.

It goes without saying that accurate crime numbers are essential not just for effective and efficient policing but to properly inform the public about their risks and their safety, and to ensure sensible criminal justice laws and policies.

If the inspector general and the civilian Police Commission must triple-check the integrity of the crime numbers, over and over, so be it. Beck’s strong denial is welcome, but let’s not wait until Carranza’s claims are tested in court. The commission ought to do what it must to reassure itself, and the public, that the LAPD’s crime numbers are accurate. And, if they are not, whether the fudging is intentional. The attitude toward the department and its data must be to trust — but verify.

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