LAPD Misclassifying Violent Crimes as Minor Offenses, Programs for CA Lifers, Supe. Hopeful Bobby Shriver Discusses Child Welfare…and MoreAugust 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
LAPD MISREPORTS 1200 VIOLENT CRIMES AS MINOR CRIMES, SAYS LA TIMES INVESTIGATION
The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly changing the city’s crime statistics, according to an LA Times investigation by Ben Poston and Joel Rubin. The wrongly reported crimes were almost always aggravated assaults that were knocked down to simple assaults, and thus not included in the city’s serious crime count. Between October 2012-September 2013, the misclassifications created an aggravated assault tally 14% lower than if the crimes were reported correctly, and a 7% lower overall violent crime total.
Some officers said the misclassifications stemmed from pressure from the top to hit crime reduction quotas. Others, including Chief Charlie Beck have blamed it on human error. But, the investigation found that nearly every inaccurately reported crime was misclassified as a lesser crime, not a more serious offense.
The crime statistics play a role in how departments, captains, and chiefs are evaluated. This investigation comes just days before the police commission’s expected vote on Chief Beck’s reappointment.
Here’s a clip from Poston and Rubin’s story. Here’s a clip:
The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013, including hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies, a Times investigation found.
The incidents were recorded as minor offenses and as a result did not appear in the LAPD’s published statistics on serious crime that officials and the public use to judge the department’s performance.
Nearly all the misclassified crimes were actually aggravated assaults. If those incidents had been recorded correctly, the total aggravated assaults for the 12-month period would have been almost 14% higher than the official figure, The Times found.
The tally for violent crime overall would have been nearly 7% higher.
Numbers-based strategies have come to dominate policing in Los Angeles and other cities. However, flawed statistics leave police and the public with an incomplete picture of crime in the city. Unreliable figures can undermine efforts to map crime and deploy officers where they will make the most difference.
More than two dozen current and retired LAPD officers interviewed for this article gave differing explanations for why crimes are misclassified.
Some said it was inadvertent. Others said the problem stemmed from relentless, top-down pressure to meet crime reduction goals.
At the start of each year, top LAPD officials set statistical goals for driving down crime in the city. As part of that process, the department’s 21 divisions are given numerical targets for serious crimes each month.
Division captains, their command staff and other senior officials worry constantly about hitting their targets, officers said.
“Whenever you reported a serious crime, they would find any way possible to make it a minor crime,” Det. Tom Vettraino, who retired in 2012 after 31 years on the force, said of his supervisors. “We were spending all this time addressing what the crime should be called, instead of dealing with the crime itself. It’s ridiculous.”
In a written response to questions from The Times, LAPD officials said the department “does not in any way encourage manipulating crime reporting or falsifying data.”
Deputy Chief Rick Jacobs defended the crime-reduction targets, saying they are an important tool for tracking the department’s performance and holding division captains accountable. Captains are not judged solely on the numbers, but on the crime-fighting strategies they use, Jacobs said.
LAPD officials also say classification errors are inevitable in a department that records more than 100,000 serious offenses each year. They say the department has tightened its safeguards and improved its reporting accuracy.
“We recognize there is an error rate,” said Arif Alikhan, a senior policy advisor to Police Chief Charlie Beck. “It’s important to us to do what we can to reduce that error rate.”
The department “is relying on that data to determine where we are going to send cops … how we actually do things to prevent crime,” he added.
Alikhan, a former federal prosecutor and Homeland Security official, said the rate of misclassification has held steady or even declined over the years, so the public can trust figures showing that crime in L.A. has fallen in each of the last 11 years.
Beck declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he said classifying crimes is “a complex process that is subject to human error.”
If the misclassifications were mainly inadvertent, police would be expected to make a similar number of mistakes in each direction — reporting serious crimes as minor ones and vice versa, said Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
But The Times’ review found that when police miscoded crimes, the result nearly always was to turn a serious crime into a minor one.
PRAISES AND CONCERNS REGARDING LAPD CHIEF BECK AS VOTE ON REAPPOINTMENT DRAWS NEARER
As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck heads into the police commission’s Tuesday vote on whether to reappoint him for a second 5-year term, Brenda Gazzar of the LA Daily news looks at criticisms and praises of the chief. Here are some clips:
At a housing project in Watts earlier this year, gang expert Jorja Leap was leading a weekly support group for fathers that included former gang members and parolees when the topic turned to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck.
There had been a spike in gang violence that week, Leap recalled, and some of the men in Project Fatherhood were concerned that the LAPD would go back to its old, heavy-handed ways and “come down hard” on African-Americans. The adjunct professor for the UCLA Luskin School for Public Affairs was stunned, she said, when others in the group strongly disagreed, arguing that Beck would never do that because “he was different.”
“I’ve worked in South Los Angeles all my life — all my professional life — and there has always been mistrust and outright hatred of the LAPD and its chief,” said Leap, noting that this predominantly black neighborhood in particular had witnessed decades of police brutality dating back to the 1965 Watts riots. However, “there’s something about (Beck) that has fostered great trust in the community. He has to always be respectful of that and how he uses that.”
The Rev.[sic] Greg Boyle, founder of the renowned L.A.-based anti-gang program Homeboy Industries, said Beck “has a reverence for the complexity of things — and the root of gang crime and kids’ involvement in it.” Boyle said his wish is that law enforcement will now realize that gang crime is really a community health issue.
“It’s not enough for law enforcement to keep saying (endlessly) that we ‘can’t arrest our way out of this problem,’” Boyle wrote in an email. “Usually, after saying this, it proceeds to try and solve this problem alone. L.A. is ready for the wider, more aerial view … and Charlie can bring the city to that place.”
But in addition to the new issue of the wrongly categorizing crimes, some commission members still expressed concerns.
“There are a number of (discipline) decisions that trouble me, partly because I felt they were too lenient and partly because I felt they were inconsistent from cases otherwise similar,” said Commissioner Robert M. Saltzman, who has served on the panel for seven years and declined to identify the specific cases due to “personnel matters.”
Meanwhile, Soboroff has publicly disagreed with the chief on two discipline cases, one involving Officer Shaun Hillman, who was given a suspension of more than two months after he allegedly called an African-American a “monkey” in an off-duty incident and lied to investigators. The chief overruled a disciplinary board’s decision to fire Hillman, whose father is a retired LAPD officer and whose uncle is a former deputy chief. The other case involved Beck’s decision to return to duty eight police officers who mistakenly fired more than 100 rounds at a pickup truck carrying two women delivering newspapers during the search for cop killer Christopher Dorner. Beck acknowledged the officers violated department policy but opted to retrain them. However, those decisions are taken against Beck’s total performance over five years, Soboroff said.
CLASSES FOR INFLUX OF LIFER INMATES WINNING PAROLE
Over the last five years, around 2,300 California inmates serving life with the possibility of parole have been released into supervision—more than twice as many as the preceding twenty years combined.
The new population of lifers winning parole has triggered a wave of programs to help these inmates—who have been locked up for decades—successfully reenter their communities and adjust to life on the outside.
KQED’s Scott Shafer has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
On a recent weekday morning at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, inmates lined up to receive certificates. They had just completed classes that help them understand how they ended up here. The special guest is not a typical graduation speaker. Instead, they hear from Teresa Courtemanche. Six years ago, her son, Matt, who was on the Fairfield City Council, was shot and killed. He was 22 — a victim of mistaken identity. She recalls that night when her home phone rang.
“It was my friend Terri and she said, ‘I think Matt got shot,’ ” Courtemanche remembers. “ ’What?’ ‘I think he got shot.’ I said, ‘OK, let me go. Let me call his phone.’ And I kept calling his phone and he didn’t answer.”
She goes on to describe through tears how the murder tore through her family — and still does. The audience, 40 or so lifers, sits quietly, many of them nodding slowly as she speaks. It’s one of the ways inmates hear about the impact that crime has on their victims and their families. Afterward, one of the inmates, James Ward, speaks passionately about the unfairness of violent crime.
“When I hear us complaining about how unfair we are treated — you want to see how unfairness is?” Ward says, pounding the podium for emphasis. “Look at her experience. When we talk about, ‘Oh, the police didn’t let me out on the yard or came to search my house.’ How messed up that is. That is not unfair!”
Ward has spent half his life in prison after stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death over 30 years ago. After being turned down for parole five times, he was finally found suitable earlier this year. Standing in a prison courtyard, Ward says unless that his parole is reversed by the governor, he’ll leave Solano Prison Nov. 5.
“I have mixed feelings about it, actually,” he confides. “There’s the elation of being found suitable but then the sobering realization of what this has cost — in my girlfriend’s life and her relatives’ lives and my family’s lives. So, the impact is widespread, so I can’t be too celebratory.”
A couple years ago, Ward was trained to be a drug and alcohol counselor at Solano, as well as a mentor for other inmates.
“Doing this work is part of that making amends in a kind of indirect way to my victims,” Ward says. “But there’s more that I think I could do out of the confines of this limiting environment.”
Programs like these are part of a different approach that Gov. Brown has brought to criminal justice. For the first time in decades, inmate rehabilitation is a funding priority. The inmates learn things like anger management, what leads to criminal thinking, the impact crime has on victims and how to reconcile with their own family members if they’re released.
Rodger Meier, deputy director for rehabilitation with CDCR, says the goal is “to try to make sure that they are suitable for parole, that they don’t impact public safety, and they can successfully go out into society and lead a productive life.”
Nearly half of Solano’s 3,300 inmates are lifers, and many will eventually be paroled. And the hope is that programs like these will help them make better decisions than they did before they were sent here.
LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATE BOBBY SHRIVER ON CHILD WELFARE
Last month, Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback talked with Sheila Kuehl, one of the candidates running for LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat, about what she would do, if elected, to push through much-needed Dept. of Children and Family Services reforms—particularly those recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety.
Now, Loudenback has interviewed Kuehl’s opponent, Bobby Shriver, about his thoughts on creating a better child welfare system for LA County’s most vulnerable.
Shriver discussed fixing DCFS’ outdated computer systems, staying on an issue—calling people “all day long and on the weekend”—until it is corrected, and finding innovators within the system to come together as champions for change.
Here are some clips:
Growing up as the son of Special Olympics founder and social worker Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Shriver says that the struggles of caseworkers in the child welfare system remind him of his mother.
“As a kid, I remember my mom was frustrated with the way with the way things were happening,” Shriver said, recalling his mother’s work in the Illinois juvenile justice system in the 1950s. “I grew up watching her assemble social workers at our house and figure out how to create programs for whatever funding streams in Illinois in the ‘50s and then in D.C. later.”
Shriver has made the pursuit of new ideas at the core of his campaign for the Board of Supervisors. A self-described “innovation person,” Shriver says Los Angeles County needs to be shaken up.
“I’m more disposed emotionally and intellectually to solve a problem with a new idea that hasn’t been tried before,” Shriver says.
“I don’t want to be sitting here in 10 years with a new study showing me how the child welfare system has yet again failed this group of children. We’ve got a series of those studies already.”
“There’s has to be something that can be done that will shift us out of that and if that’s performance-based contracting in part, we have to take a serious look at it,” said Shriver.
Shriver points to a discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 29 about creating a mental-health diversion program that would route some offenders into mental-health programs instead of the county’s overcrowded system of jails as an example of how the long-serving board has not always been open to hearing new ways to address the county’s enduring issues
“Supervisor Yaroslavsky said at the meeting that the conversation about diversion was the first discussion of the topic he had heard in the 20-plus years he’s been on the board,” Shriver said. “It’s incredible to me that none of supervisors had brought forward that suggestion in 20 years.”
“I would stick a fork through my hand if the computer system hasn’t been fixed in four years if I’m there, running for re-election,” he said, referring to the outmoded computer system used by county social workers. “I do have a plan, but the most important element of the plan is that when I say I’m going to absolutely do something, I mean it. I’m going to call people all day long and on the weekend. It has to be followed through on a daily basis. I’ve just never seen [change happen] by committees or consultants, that kind of way.”