Chief Hurtt refuses to answer questions about homicide stats (updated!)

It looks as if KHOU-11's Mark Greenblatt struck a nerve with his story about HPD fudging homicide numbers. As reported by Matt Stiles and Mark Greenblatt, Chief Hurtt held a press conference yesterday to refute KHOU's report:

Using strong language, Hurtt challenged the story and defended his department, saying his employees follow FBI guidelines while classifying homicides in public crime statistics. Hurtt said the story didn't distinguish between the various types of homicide. Some are justifiable, he said, or caused by accidents or negligence, and therefore not "murders" under the FBI's terms.

"That the news report failed to make this distinction grossly misinforms and fails to properly educate the public," he said.

That's from Matt Stiles on the City Hall blog. As Greenblatt notes, though, experts guided him in determining different types of homicide:

Chief Hurtt called 11 News’ report on hidden homicides, "inaccurate and misleading."

He wanted to make sure 11news understood this: that a homicide at the Medical Examiner's Office really means one human being has killed another. Not all deaths ruled a homicide there should be reported as a murder according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting rules. For instance, justifiable homicides such as a person shooting a burglar are excluded from the reporting requirements.

It's something KHOU already knew. It's also why we asked two expert criminologists ( Dr. James Fox and Dr. Lawrence Sherman) to review cases and help Channel 11 rule out any deaths that should not have been reported, long before we broadcast our first report.

And then Chief Hurtt did something that is just inexcusable -- he exited the room without answering questions, and left his subordinates to take the heat:

I was hoping an exchange between the chief and KHOU's reporter, Mark Greenblatt, might help clarify the issue. But Hurtt left without answering questions. (I asked why, and Hurtt's spokesman, Capt. Bruce Williams, actually said, "You'd have to ask him that.") Nonetheless, Greenblatt got to pepper the department's chief homicide investigator, Capt. Steve Jett, with some questions.

Maybe he had to pack for Thanksgiving weekend in Arizona. Who knows? But it's outrageous that the chief refused to deal with questions surrounding some very serious findings. Homicide numbers are an integral measure of how a police department is doing its job, and the chief, after mustering up all the righteous indignation he could, refused to answer questions about some very serious allegations.

So Capt. Steve Jett was left to deal with the mess that has been created under Chief Hurtt's watch. When Greenblatt asked about the case of a man who was shot in the back of the head, and was classified as a suicide by HPD, here's the response:

11 News: The medical examiner ruled it was scientifically impossible for Steven McCoy to kill himself. What's your response?

Captain Steve Jett: “I don't necessarily agree with that. We've had differences of opinions before.”

Medical Examiner spokesperson Beverly Begay notes the M.E. stands behind its ruling.

Further, they tell 11 News the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office is one of the few offices in the nation to hold two of the most prestigious accreditations in forensic pathology. Begay also notes more than one forensic pathologist reviewed McCoy’s autopsy before coding it a homicide.

So we asked HPD homicide Captain Steve Jett if he still thought McCoy really shot himself.

“It's unusual. Very unusual. But it does happen,” said Jett.

As Stiles noted, Greenblatt has five Edward R. Murrow awards. Chief Hurtt and HPD will have to do better if they have any hopes of putting a dent in this story.

Thankfully for MayorWhiteChiefHurtt, the Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, and with it folks will turn their attention to other things.

They hope.

UPDATE: On his blog, Chief Hurtt responds to a commenter, and leaves us all in suspense:

Anonymous said...
What do you think about channel 11's report on HPD covering up the murder rate?

You'll hear more about that next week. -- Chief Hurtt

Ooooo! Next week. Stay tuned!

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 11/21/07 05:18 AM | Print |

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