As a response to a high-profile investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, local and state officials have called for independent audits of crime numbers released by the Milwaukee Police Department.
The Journal Sentinel investigation determined that over 500 recent serious assault and battery cases, including serious domestic violence assaults, have been misclassified by the department as lesser offenses. An additional 800 cases which indicate similar issues are in the process of being verified.
While the misclassification and subsequent audits will have little consequence for those who have already been accused of assault crimes, the misrepresented numbers may speak to larger problems within the department which may affect those who are or have been accused or convicted of crimes.
The most immediate practical consequence of the investigation seems to be that 2010 violent crime numbers in the city most certainly rose rather than fell, as originally reported.
Given that crime statistics influence budgetary considerations for the criminal justice system and law enforcement, this misrepresentation is arguably significant. The misrepresentations have also skewed recent FBI crime rate reporting numbers, which help to assess the safety of various large cities.
State Senator Alberta Darling gave voice to the concerns of many recently, when she wrote this in a letter to the co-chairs of the state Joint Legislative Audit Committee: “This article raised some troubling questions about how crime is recorded in our state’s largest city and whether it is a result of a failure to follow protocol or an effort to mislead the public.”
Source: Pioneer Press, “Wisconsin: Officials seek audit of Milwaukee police crime numbers,” Ben Poston, May 24, 2012