If a crime occurs and a police officer doesn’t write a report about it, did the crime really happen? In a case described by Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Hermann, a man reported being attacked on a street and was treated in a hospital for a head injury, but when he called the police later for a report, he was told it didn’t exist because the incident was “unfounded.” Said a police spokesman: “One of the judgment calls a police officer has to make when he responds to a call about an assault or anything else, particularly after midnight or at or near a bar, is how reliable the person he’s talking to is and how much alcohol may be influencing what he is telling us. “It is not uncommon for there to be a legitimately injured person who is inebriated beyond the point to offer any reliable information about what happened to him.”
There are many ways to make crime statistics go down, Hermann says. The hardest way is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Another way is to make the crime that actually happened appear far less severe. A burglary becomes a breaking and entering. A theft becomes a larceny. Former Mayor (now Maryland Gov.) Martin O’Malley proclaimed in 2000 that his predecessors had underreported crime by 9,572 offenses. A hyped 10 percent decline in crime turned into a 3.5 percent increase. Not reporting crime might make the numbers look good, but it does little to help police the city. Officers don’t know where the crime is occurring, so they can’t deploy properly. Residents become frustrated because they’re dismissed when they complain that crime is out of control but police find no statistics to back up their claims.