This week, Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier offered an encouraging development regarding violent crime.
“I am happy to report that . . . we have reduced robberies almost 20 percent,” Lanier said to a smattering of applause, mostly from city employees. “Yes, you can clap. Robberies are down almost 20 percent. I know I clap when I hear that.” There was a problem, the Washington Post reports. The total number of robberies are up slightly, not down, compared with the same period a year ago. The most dangerous robberies — those at gunpoint — are up dramatically, by more than 20 percent.
Further, the baseline of 2015 was already elevated. The District had experienced a spike in robberies involving guns and a historic surge in homicides that made crime a top public concern for the first time in almost a decade. After the news conference, it became clear that Lanier was not using any standard method of calculating crime rates to substantiate her claim of the near-20 percent drop in robberies. Spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said the chief was counting crimes that have occurred since the District launched a robbery task force on Dec. 11. He said the total in that period was compared with the seven-month period before the task force was created. Compared with the same period a year earlier, the way D.C. police usually report such statistics, robberies were up by more than 3 percent in the seven months between when the task force began work and Tuesday’s news conference.