The FBI’s crime reporting program rarely audits police agencies providing the information and when it does its reviews are too cursory to identify deep flaws, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In each of the past five years, FBI auditors have reviewed crime statistics at fewer than one percent of the 17,000 departments that report data. In all, they’ve audited as many as 652 police agencies during that time, or less than 4% of the total. A Journal Sentinel survey of police departments in the 30 largest U.S. cities found that nearly two-thirds have not been audited in the past five years. Of those, six departments – including Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Seattle – have never been reviewed by the FBI since the auditing program began 15 years ago. That lack of scrutiny allows cases of undercounting of crimes, such as in Milwaukee where thousands of violent assaults were not included in the crime rate since 2006, to go unnoticed and gives the public a false sense of the true level of crime, criminal justice experts said.
“It would be more candid to not do any (audits),” said Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “This way, at least you’re not offering any pretense of checking on the validity of the stats. If you are going to do that little, then why do it? You either do it systematically, or you don’t do it at all.” The FBI this year did its first-ever audit of the Milwaukee Police Department, even though it’s the largest law enforcement agency in the state, generating about one-quarter of FBI index crimes in Wisconsin. That just-released audit, conducted at the request of Police Chief Edward Flynn, examined 60 incidents – a number experts say is too small to draw conclusions from. “If they only pull a (small sample), the likelihood that they will find assaults that were downgraded is very low,” said James Alan Fox, criminology professor at Northeastern University. “Their ability to identify systematic misclassification is limited by the total volume of cases they check.”