Last week, Tampa Police Chief Stephen Hogue said the city’s crime rate had dropped 16.8 percent from 2004 to 2005. That statistic does not give residents the full picture, says the Tampe Tribune. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report on which it is based has “meticulous and often baffling guidelines meant to eliminate differences among jurisdictions and ensure that incidents are counted once – except violent crimes with multiple victims,” says the Tribune. A dozen cars burglarized at an apartment complex overnight are considered one burglary, but a double homicide counts as two deaths. “It’s not intended to give you a comprehensive view,” said Jacqueline Cohen of the National Consortium on Violence Research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Hogue said Tampa had reported “more crimes than we needed to” in previous years. Officials discovered in October 2004 that they were not using the FBI’s methodology and switched in 2005, he said. Crime data can be flawed because of decisions made by those categorizing each incident or by policy changes, said Jim Lynch of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Some agencies have inflated numbers to get federal money. That happened during the 1990s, when community policing programs were funded based on crime reporting, Lynch said. Whether the misreporting is deliberate or accidental, residents suffer, Lynch said. Police agencies collect a tremendous amount of data, but shoehorning it into the FBI format does not pinpoint crimes residents want to track, such as crimes in schools, he said. “We need to get off our duff and design a better set of indicators to deal with the technology we have today.”