Helfman, et al., call for audit of HPD crime reporting

In their latest op-ed on Houston crime, Alan Helfman, Jay Wall, and Bill Wolff call for an audit of HPD's crime reporting.

They make a persuasive case:

What is the true state of crime in Houston? Unfortunately, neither we nor the leaders of HPD know for sure. Basic answers to basic questions are impossible to ascertain with any degree of certainty.

Perhaps the most striking example of this was provided in the recent news stories surrounding HPD's crime counting methods. Just before ThanksgivingIn late November 2007 [sic], KHOU's (Channel 11) Mark Greenblatt revealed that HPD underreported murders in both 2005 and 2006. In perhaps the most egregious case to date, the HPD classified the death of Stephen McCoy, who suffered three gunshot wounds to the chest and one to the back of the head, as a "suicide."

Other homicides, in one instance two deaths indisputably by arson, were put into the limbo category of "under investigation." Cases "under investigation" (as to cause of death) may not be classified as murders.

Thus far, due largely to Greenblatt's prodding, six Houston cases "under investigation" have recently been reclassified as murder by HPD.

Far from the norm, miscounting murders is significantly more than just a disagreement about interpreting facts or applying rules. Dr. Lawrence Sherman, dean of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania has said, "There is something fundamentally wrong with the practices of the HPD in keeping count of its homicides. There appears to be a clear undercounting."

Other nationally recognized experts agree. Dr. James Fox, professor of law, policy and society at Northeastern University in Boston, a visiting fellow with the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the Department of Justice and the man USA Today described as "arguably the nation's foremost criminologist," was asked directly if he thought the city of Houston was lying about its homicide statistics. He answered: "Well, someone is. Cases that are clear-cut homicides are not being counted."

Yet the beat goes on: The above example of McCoy's death has still not been reclassified to murder, only moved from the category of suicide to "under investigation."

Six cases may not seem like very many, a statistical blip easily repaired. But murder has long been considered a unique bellwether crime because, as Jack Maple, the late crime-fighter who organized CompStat under William J. Bratton in the NYPD once stated, "there are no secret police cemeteries" in which to hide the bodies.

Yet, now we find that in Houston, at least, such a place actually does exist, constructed out of paper much like the Potemkin villages that so pleased the Russian czar.

And the "sharp pencils" that Bratton so loathed were not confined only to the homicide squad. Examples of failures to properly count crimes in other categories abound. Year after year, HPD reported zero (as in none) cases of embezzlement; other recent press reports detailed the use of multiple sets of books to count DWI arrests.


Were such similar, repeated and blatant errors committed in a publicly held corporation, the fallout would be swift and painful.

Please click over and read their op-ed in its entirety.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 05/18/08 09:18 PM | Print |

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