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On crime and education, you can't always trust the data

To the editor: Well done to The Times on the LAPD cheating scandal (let's call it what it is). But we shouldn't be so shocked that the Los Angeles Police Department has manipulated data and passed the numbers along as fact to make things look better than they really are. ("LAPD watchdog to launch broad inquiry into misclassified crime stats," Aug. 11)

Data-driven management is the latest craze in our tech-obsessed world. But as long as human beings must report the data, and enormous pressure is applied from above to make the numbers move a certain way, the process will always be fatally flawed.

And where was this tough reporting when you were publishing data on the Los Angeles Unified School District, including "gains" in multiple-choice test scores and lists of so-called bad teachers based on equally suspect information?

Let's be honest: Lots of people will lie and fudge numbers to save their jobs or get promoted. It doesn't matter if it's crime statistics or student test scores. Hopefully this reporting will prompt The Times to question all future statistics with equal vigor.

Kirk Jordan, Long Beach

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To the editor: So many cities across the nation compete for such esoteric, self-limiting titles as, say, "the safest city with a population over 100,000," that there are many "safest" cities in the country. There is constant pressure to achieve these rankings from the self-serving politicians who hire the police chiefs, so the system must be closely monitored.

There are legitimate reasons to reclassify crimes, but those should all be related to changes in the known facts of the incident, not to arbitrary and possibly influenced decisions by detectives and clerks in the department.

Mike Post, Winnetka

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