St. Louis Changed Crime Reporting Without Telling Public


When 52 car windows were smashed overnight in St. Louis, police tallied just three larcenies – one per block. That’s how the FBI wants local police to count certain property crimes that happen close together – as single incidents. St. Louis police Chief Dan Isom said his department has only recently changed its crime counting methodology to adhere to federal guidelines, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. While the chief has touted a dramatic drop in the city’s crime rate, he’s never before publicly disclosed any change to the way his department counts crimes. A local expert on the city’s crime trends said the department should have been more upfront. “When a change is made, the public is owed an explanation,” said Rick Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “Especially when you begin to count multiple victimizations as one.”

Isom is “fairly confident” that crime really was in steep decline. Isom said the department also realized it had been under-counting assaults by counting them by incident, instead of by victim. A shooting in which five people were targets now turns into five aggravated assaults instead of one, he said. The Post-Dispatch has been unable to analyze recent crime trends because, starting in 2008, the department blocked reporters’ access to some data that had been made available in previous years. Experts in policing said the questions about St. Louis’ crime numbers provide more proof that the FBI’s so-called “Uniform Crime Statistics” aren’t very uniform – or meaningful – despite the importance that people place on them. Robert Taylor, a criminologist at the University of North Texas once worked as a police officer for a city that wanted new lights for its streets. “We wanted a grant to do that, and we were told to go out and find every broken window we could,” he said. He spent a lot of time writing vandalism reports. “You know how many broken windows there are there?” he asked. “We led the nation that year in vandalism. And guess who got the grant?”

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