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NC5 Investigates: The Truth About Crime

Crime Stats Audit Leaves Unanswered Questions

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By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

Nashville police are declaring victory following the release of a long-awaited audit of how the city keeps crime statistics.

But, it turns out, that audit may not tell the whole story.

That Metro report concludes that auditors "did not observe any intentional manipulation" of crime stats by Metro police. Still, in interviewing police personnel, they found officers who had "a negative view of the process and/or had little faith in the accuracy of the numbers reported."

Mayor Karl Dean requested the audit after questions raised by a NewsChannel 5 investigation.

"The primary purpose of this audit was to determine if we were reporting our crime statistics in a reasonable manner," Police Chief Steve Anderson said before the report was released.

"The answer to that, as determined by internal audit, is 'yes.' A secondary purpose was to determine if there was any manipulation of that data. And the answer to that was 'no.'"

Yet, the 51-page audit does not address some of the biggest problems uncovered by an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation -- including rapes committed against some women that, for years, just weren't counted.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates talked to the victims, comparing their stories to the crimes that police recorded -- like burglaries written off as mere cases of vandalism.
Related story: Nashville Police Don't Count Some Burglaries

We asked Metro Auditor Mark Swann, "Did you interview victims?"

"We did not interview victims," he answered, explaining that they focused on reviewing the data, along with a sample of incident reports.
 
Swann said his team did find an error rate of about 10 percent in how Metro police classified crimes.
 
"Could a 10 percent error rate have skewed the year-to-year reporting numbers?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

"On an individual category basis, yes -- or a clearance basis, yes," the auditor acknowledged.
 
Yet, the auditors did not specifically dig into what police told the Metro Council about their huge success in "cases cleared by arrest" -- violent crime (76.5  percent), aggravated assault (82.4 percent) and forcible rape (122.8 percent).
Related story: Expert: Nashville's Crime Clearance Stats 'Not Credible'

Off camera, a police spokesman now calls those claims a "colossal mistake."
 
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Swann, "You all did not audit every single slide that the chief of police presented to the Metro Council?"

"No," he said.

Then, there were an astounding number of rape reports written off as "matters of record" -- meaning they did not count in any crime stats.
Related story: Metro Crime Stats Ignore Hundreds of Sex Assault Cases

 After NewsChannel 5 uncovered the problem, Metro police reclassified hundreds of sexual assault cases.
Related story: Police Admit Public Not Told Truth About Rapes

Yet, the problem appears nowhere in the audit.
 
"Did the audit specifically look at how sexual assaults were classified?" we wanted to know.

"The audit did not look at a specific crime," Swann responded.
 
As for the type of crime stats relied upon by Metro officials, the audit says those numbers may provide an "incomplete" picture.

Instead, it suggests using different stats kept by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that -- instead of six straight years of decline, as Metro police claimed -- show crime was actually up three of those six years.

In addition to reclassifying hundreds of sexual assault cases, police brass sent officers back to school for refresher training.

And, in the audit, they're promising other measures to make sure that crime is reported accurately in the future.

E-mail: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

Read audit of Metro police crime stats

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