Milwaukee police record clerks routinely changed computer codes by hand in a way that removes serious assaults from the violent crime rate, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. This is done even when the computer system flags incidents as cases where an aggravated assault classification is warranted because a dangerous weapon was used. Instead of putting incidents in the proper category, in hundreds of cases employees changed the weapon listing to generic codes that avoided triggering scrutiny by state and FBI crime analysts. That allowed incidents to be reported as simple assaults, which are not part of the violent crime rate, which Police Chief Edward Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett say has dropped for four straight years.
While Flynn has blamed computer issues for more than 500 cases of misreported aggravated assaults identified by a Journal Sentinel investigation, a review of the process shows any computer shortcomings are exacerbated by clerks who department officials now acknowledge handled cases incorrectly. “It defies belief that this problem could be the result of ‘computer error’ or random mistakes by clerks,” said Samuel Walker, criminology professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “Why are the errors so concentrated in one crime category and the mistakes all in the same direction?”