More than six months after flagging problems with Washington, D.C.’s crime statistics, Police Chief Cathy Lanier says the numbers are so murky that she cannot definitively say whether crime is up this year. One number is clear: Homicides have surpassed the total for all of 2006. Lanier, who is nearing the end of her first year as chief, said she inherited problems with crime databases and that efforts are continuing to ensure that tallies are accurate and up to date. For now, the margin of error on preliminary statistics is 10 percent. “We have a paper-driven system,” Lanier said. “Paper can fall through the cracks.”
Assaults are down, but robberies are up about 10 percent, she said. That confounded City Council member Mary Cheh, who pointed out: “If there’s a 10 percent margin of error, robberies might be up 20 percent or they might not be up at all. And robberies are homicides waiting to happen.” Questions about crime statistics emerged last spring, when police said that violent crime jumped nearly 9 percent in 2006. The department said earlier that violent crime had dropped 2.4 percent, bucking a national upward trend. The police department revised its 2006 statistics for the FBI, but it did not update another database that is used to form crime strategies and inform the public, because it would be too costly in overtime hours, Lanier said. It took “thousands of man hours” to make the statistics correct for the FBI, she said. The problem continues this year; so far about 4,000 reports have been misclassified or not counted.