Reviewing the Feb. 19 Washington Post story on homicide clearance rates in Washington, D.C., the newspaper’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, concludes that, “in its language and tone, it seemed to tell a story more of gotcha than of scandal. I don't think D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier used trickery in her reporting of statistics to mislead the public about the solving of homicide cases.” A “hopping mad” Lanier met with the Post to discuss the story, which prompted an editor’s clarification.
Pexton says the story would have worked better if it had explained the “pitfalls” in the FBI-sanctioned procedure for reporting homicide clearance rates. He says the capital’s police department should be clear in its annual reports about the “rolling rate” of reporting clearances–including previous year’s closures in a current year’s total–so that no one can suggest any manipulation. Journalists should include an explanation in stories on the subject, he says.