Why Don’t Crime Statistics Add Up?

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The FBI counted 91 people killed in Columbus in 2016. The Ohio Department of Public Safety recorded 93. Columbus police, whose detectives are in charge of investigating the deaths, report that 106 people were killed. When the Columbus Dispatch looked into the state’s tally of homicide numbers and cross-checked it with the city’s list, it found discrepancies. One woman was killed but counted twice as a victim; a woman who is still living was included on the list of homicide victims. Her husband reportedly wanted to kill her but never followed through. A total of 14 homicides were missing from the state list. “I would hope I never go under the knife with a surgeon who is as accurate as your murder numbers,” said Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project.

“I didn’t realize the state is showing different numbers,” said Dale Thomas of the Columbus Police Net Unit, which collects crime statistics from the software system PremierOne and sends a monthly report to the state. Every crime category is affected. The city and state use incident-based reporting statistics for crime. That means that if someone is raped, robbed and then killed, crime data is counted three ways — once for a rape, once for a robbery and once for a homicide. In 2007, the Dispatch reported that the city had used the incident-based reporting system for a few years and had similar discrepancies. Jeffrey Butts of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said that law enforcement never has been best equipped for crunching the numbers. Some police departments use civilians with advanced degrees and computers. “Other places, you walk in and it’s full of uniforms,” he said, noting that some departments view crime reporting as a desk job for officers who no longer want to work patrol.

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