The rate of aggravated assaults in Los Angeles would have been 36 percent higher per year, from 2008 and 2014, had the crimes been properly classified, according to an inspector general report presented Tuesday to the Police Commission.
Crimes that should have been classified as aggravated assaults, considered violent crimes, were instead reported to the federal government as simple assaults or put in other, less severe categories, during the seven-year period reviewed by his office, Inspector General Alexander Bustamante told commissioners.
Bustamante said the estimated number of misclassified aggravated assaults was based on a random sampling of 3,895 crime reports, as his office could not do a review of every instance of crimes likely to have been misclassified.
The misclassifications appeared to be largely due to a “lack of education” and “inconsistencies” in guidance from the FBI — to which the department submits crime statistics — rather than from intentional efforts by members of the department to mislead the public and the federal government, Bustamante said.
When he began the investigation, “the first thing we were looking for was evidence that people were gaming this, to manipulate the system either on a division level or individual station or all the way up to the department heads,” Bustamante said.
He said his office ran across “some examples of individuals that made decisions that we … could not really rationalize why those decisions were made.”
But it became clear early in the investigation that “an overwhelming majority” of those in the department tasked with classifying the crimes “didn’t really understand the process at all,” he said.
Some of the confusion came from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, or UCR, system not always lining up with the penal codes that police officers use to decide what charges to submit for the district attorney’s consideration, Bustamante said.
And when the department sought help from the FBI, it “got further inconsistencies from the FBI itself,” Bustamante said.
The inspector general’s report follows a Los Angeles Times investigation in 2014 that found the LAPD was under-reporting aggravated assaults due to misclassification.
Bustamante said the police department has since established a Data Integrity Unit that regularly inspects crime statistics and trains personnel to more accurately classify crimes.
He said the department appeared to be “on point with the issues they identified and the remedies (that) … were designed specifically to fix those issues and try to reduce the errors.”
LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore told the commission that while he feels most of the misclassifications stem from the “idiosyncracies” of the UCR, lack of training and staffing cutbacks, there have been a few cases in which the deparment has had to take disciplinary action.
“The department is not suggesting that individuals have not wrongly classified and wrongly, we believe, done so for the improper reasons,” Moore said. “And in each instance of that occurrence, we have taken swift and certain actions — there’s been demotions.
“There is no tolerance for people managing crime with an eraser or downplaying an incidence because of an upcoming Compstat inspection” or to give an impression that safety was improving, he said.
Moore added that the department depends on the same data to determine how to deploy its resources, so “we’re all committed as an organization to make sure this is accurate.”
— Wire reports