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Mayor & Police Chief’s Longtime Claims That “Crime Is Down” Bogus? AAPD Sources Reveal Crime Reports Not Filed & Allege Crimes Misclassified

A2PNotes: This is filed under “Scoops & Scores” because you read it here first.

In answer to how often the officers on Ann Arbor’s police department simply skip the step of filing official police reports, a source within the AAPD told A2Politico: “Probably four times per month and all of the officers are doing this. We are just stretched so thin. We want to get to the people, you know?”

Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje has a mantra, and it’s “crime is down.” He has used it to justify early retirement offered to two dozen officers—a retirement gambit that a city financial staffer confirmed resulted in an over $8 million deficit in the city’s General Fund in 2009. The gap that was closed by cutting citizen services, raising fees and slashing the size of the Fire Department. Hieftje has used “crime is down” to justify laying off police officers. He has used “crime is down” to convince taxpayers that they are just as safe as they were when the city had 100 more officers. Like George W. Bush, whose mantra was “there were weapons of mass destruction,” AAPD sources say that Hieftje’s mantra is a lie that is putting the citizens whom they have sworn to protect at a higher risk of being victimized.

At the August 4, 2011 City Council meeting Hieftje claimed that the recent attacks/rapes in Ann Arbor of six women in a seven-day period—sex crimes which the FBI were asked to help investigate—have “nothing to do with the level of crime.” Watch a video of his comments below.

The Uniform Crime Reports compiled and then released by the FBI are drawn from information submitted by individual cities. In essence, the FBI rely on self-reporting and the honor system. Elected officials and police chiefs who wanted to manipulate crime statistics could do it several ways, and members of the Ann Arbor Police Department allege that Ann Arbor’s department is doing just that, misrepresenting crime statistics to make it appear as though crime in our city is down from five years ago, when the Department had 100 more officers.

It is a serious allegation, as false information fed to the federal officials could open up local officials in a city or its police department to serious scrutiny from federal officials and, perhaps, charges of public corruption. The Obama administration has made quite clear that it takes charges of local and state governmental corruption and fraud quite seriously.

On the FBI’s web site the page is titled Public Corruption. The first sentence reads, “It’s our top priority among criminal investigations—and for good reason.” The explanation continues, “Public corruption poses a fundamental threat to our national security and way of life. It impacts everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected…to verdicts handed down in courts…to the quality of our roads, schools, and other government services. And it takes a significant toll on our pocketbooks, wasting billions in tax dollars every year. The FBI is singularly situated to combat this corruption, with the skills and capabilities to run complex undercover operations and surveillance.”

The FBI is currently investigating more than 2,000 public corruption cases around the country. In fiscal 2010, FBI corruption investigations led to charges in more than 1,330 cases, resulting in more than 900 convictions. A large number of those convictions were politicos in local government.

Members of the City Council’s Labor Committee, John Hieftje, Fourth Ward Council members Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins and Second Ward Council members Stephen Rapundalo and Tony Derezinski, were asked whether they had knowledge of these allegations. The Council’s Labor Committee oversees contract negotiations with the city’s unions and has pushed consistently to cut police and fire coverage. A2Politico also asked the Council’s Labor Committee if, perhaps, Council had plans to conduct an independent audit of the city’s crime reports to detect any misclassification of crimes. None of the Council members responded.

Crimes Disappear

When an officer does not file a report, evidence of crime simply disappears. When “crime is down,” politicos like John Hieftje talk it up. In April Hieftje told AnnArbor.com he was “pretty comfortable” with cuts to safety services.

“There are not enough officers to file reports the same way that officers who worked in the AAPD five years ago filed reports,” another source within the AAPD, who spoke to A2Politico on condition of anonymity explained. “The next call is waiting.”

There are other ways that the multiple sources within the department allege Ann Arbor’s crime statistics are being manipulated so that it appears crime has dropped even as the number of officers has been steadily reduced.

“Say a call comes in to 911. The Ann Arbor dispatch takes the call, writes it up—classifies it—and dispatches officers. When county dispatchers get involved they routinely down-classify the crimes reported in the calls. A & B (assault and battery) becomes disorderly conduct. Open calls get closed out then reclassified.”

This is only one of the concerns raised about recent secret meetings held to explore outsourcing dispatcher services to the county. Notes from the meetings were leaked last week to A2Politico. The notes included officials discussing busting the dispatcher’s union, and the fact that only the Ann Arbor City Council’s Labor Committee members (Hieftje, Higgins, Teall, Rapundalo and Derezinski) knew about the meetings, and had directed city staffers to initiate discussions. Staffers at the meetings claimed “the city was in no matter what” despite the fact the public had not been consulted nor had Ann Arbor’s six other city Council members.

In response to whether the county dispatchers are down-classifying 911 calls through ineptitude or in an effort to deliberately keep the numbers of violent crimes perpetrated low, the AAPD source answers quickly: “Both, I think.”

Then there are the case closures. Ann Arbor has a handful of detectives to investigate the hundreds of cases that come from the patrol units.

The AAPD source explains why focusing on the number of crimes committed is a sly trick to fool residents. “What’s the closure rate? That’s the question citizens want to have answered. The truth is that the detectives know that they don’t have enough time to investigate some cases. They make a couple of calls, then close the case. When cases are closed, they are classified as a particular kind of crime, then the file is locked.”

Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones (pictured left) began the conversation about the alleged misclassification of crimes by the AAPD by saying, “I am not a crook.” The irony of the statement, of course, is that former President Richard Nixon said the same thing in an hour-long televised question-and-answer session with 400 Associated Press managing editors in November of 1973 as he declared his innocence in the Watergate case.

Jones was loquacious, relaxed, and adamant that the steady drop in crime that has provided John Hieftje with campaign fodder is the result of fewer crimes being committed in the city limits. Jones has a politician’s smooth delivery, coupled with a police officer’s crisp reliance on facts. Jones ran for a seat on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners in 2003, and is the former Police Chief of Sterling Heights, Michigan. He also spent some serious time in the Wayne and Oakland County Sheriffs’ Departments. He was hired by Ann Arbor in 2006, the city’s first black police chief.

“Crime is not down,” alleged multiple sources within the AAPD who spoke to A2Politico on condition of anonymity. ”The Chief doesn’t care if anyone believes him. He’s threatened people not to talk about this. Reporting is down. Crimes are being down-classified. Cases that detectives don’t solve are, perhaps, down-classified, then closed. The only way anyone would ever find out would be to read the record of the initial call, to see how the dispatcher classified the crime, then the patrol officer’s report, and finally the closed case file. Someone would really have to know what they were looking for, and these guys obviously don’t think anyone’s going to look.”

Are the allegations too incredible to believe? Not by a long shot.

Crime Misclassification

In 2004 Atlanta’s new Police Chief, Richard Pennington, released an independent audit of his department’s police practices that shocked the nation. He criticized his department for underreporting crime. The Los Angeles Times reports, “The independent report covers the years prior to Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Olympics through Pennington’s tenure as chief, which began in 2002. It described ‘a broken police department’ that, during a period when officials here were concerned about the city’s image as a tourist destination, discarded crime records and improperly closed cases.”

In January of this year, The New York Times reported that David N. Kelley, Chief of Police for the city of New York, announced that “three former federal prosecutors would review the department’s internal crime-reporting system.” The article goes on to report that, “Critics have long suggested that the crime data has been undermined by departmental incentives or threats that in many cases prompt those responsible for assessing, reporting and recording crimes — from patrol officers to precinct commanders — to downgrade offenses….”

Ann Arbor officials, starting with Hieftje, are dining out on the city’s image, beginning with the awards the city has won. The most recent push for an award was the city-wide effort to have Ann Arbor win an American Cities Award. Lucy Ann Visovatti, a city employee who moonlights as local radio personality Lucy Ann Lance is a tool city officials like to use for interviews of city staff. Lance once interviewed city manager Sue McCormick in AnnArbor.com without mentioning she and McCormick were both city employees. In May, Lance launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign to get her followers to vote for Ann Arbor’s failed efforts to win the American Cities award. Lance also recently interviewed Chief Barnett Jones and Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton concerning the proposed outsourcing of the city’s dispatch services to Washtenaw County. Not surprisingly, the “interview” was decidedly incurious concerning potential ramifications of any outsourcing of dispatch services.

Rana Sampson is a national problem-oriented policing consultant and the former director of public safety for the University of San Diego. She was previously a White House Fellow; National Institute of Justice Fellow; senior researcher and trainer at the Police Executive Research Forum; attorney; and patrol officer, undercover narcotics officer and patrol sergeant with the New York City Police Department. In the April 2011 issue of Community Policing Dispatch, she writes about the misclassification of crimes by police departments and police chiefs:

Even though there are many different ways to measure a city’s crime reduction success, the up or down trends of Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Part 1 crime numbers and rates has the firmest grip on how cities are viewed, even though these numbers/rates are widely considered to be insufficient and potentially inaccurate gauges of police competency. That said, I do believe we can reduce crime—and have done so in many places—but the important point here, is that there is no need to exaggerate gains since it masks patterns that allow us to reduce crime further. Currently, most police agencies selectively report crime in their jurisdiction, typically reporting on only a handful of crimes, predominantly murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and vehicle theft, whether or not these are indicative of all the other crimes or crime trends occurring in the jurisdiction. Also, police rarely report crime clearance rates to the public and do not discuss how these rates relate to reductions or changes in crime.

In Ann Arbor, Part 1 crime is the star of the Jones and Hieftje show, as opposed to the crime clearance rates, as an AAPD source pointed out above. There are no regular internal or outside audits conducted by the AAPD to ferret out the misclassification rate, as there are in, say, New York, where a team reviews 50,000 crime reports per year to sniff out down-classifications and misclassifications of crime in that city.

Between 2005 and 2010, as Hieftje crowed about overall percentage decreases in Part 1 crime, FBI Uniform crime statistics documented a steady rise in rapes in Ann Arbor. Shortly after asking help from the FBI to catch a suspected serial rapist on the prowl, Hieftje and Jones produced statistics that alleged that rapes in Ann Arbor have decreased from their 2010 level. Rana Sampson writes, “And, just as Congress looked into this kind of cheating with hearings on steroid use in baseball, last year allegations that police agencies cheated on crime reporting by reclassifying or downgrading rape complaints prompted a U.S. senate subcommittee to convene a hearing entitled, ‘Rape in the United States: The Chronic Failure to Report and Investigate Sex Crimes.’”

In an August 2011 AnnArbor.com piece Hieftje claims that “a total of 7,911 crimes were reported in Ann Arbor last year, a figure that’s down 19 percent from 2002 levels.”

If, as the AAPD sources allege, the number of crimes reported has fallen because AAPD officers are not writing crime reports, Hieftje’s repeated claims that the number of crimes committed is down can only be seen as a perverse misrepresentation to protect both his own political ambitions and the reputation of the city. Furthermore, if the crimes that are being reported get misclassified, as multiple AAPD sources allege, it means that Part 1 crime in Ann Arbor has, perhaps, not declined steadily as claimed by the Mayor and Police Chief—claims parroted by the local media.

The AAPD officer in charge of compiling crime data for the city was pulled from that job to work on processing the over 500 tips sent in regarding the serial rapist. Right now, documenting crime in Ann Arbor has taken a back seat to solving six recent attacks on women in the city—a crime spree that got a write-up in the New York Times, but which john Hieftje claims has no bearing at all on the level of crime in Ann Arbor. 

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Offered Without Comment (Well, Almost)

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7 Comments for “Mayor & Police Chief’s Longtime Claims That “Crime Is Down” Bogus? AAPD Sources Reveal Crime Reports Not Filed & Allege Crimes Misclassified”

  1. [...] steady drops in crime—even as the number of police officers has been reduced by almost half—there have been persistent allegations that the city’s crime statistics are not accurate. Those allegations have been made by AAPD [...]

  2. @Alan, I don’t expect you’ll ever get a reply, unfortunately.

  3. I never did get a reply to my AnnArbor.com comment post about
    the journalism ethics of allowing Lucy Ann Lance to interview
    city employees while being on its payroll. I’m not holding
    my breath either.

  4. Great piece. A2P is clearly becoming known as a place to get “the rest of the story” told.

  5. The city should shift resources from promoting development to protecting the public. Staff in the city attorney’s office, planning and finance spend time on negotiating public-private development deals, such as the conference center and the apartments on top of a city financed parking structure at First and Washington.

    Fewer attorneys, planners, and financial analyists and more police officers and fire fighters would be a good start to getting city spending priorities back to where they should be.

  6. oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive..

  7. Yep, lots of other cities bigger than Ann Arbor have been using these trickes

    Not surprising that it is also happening here when you consider that even before cities Universities have been doing this to maintain a “safe” looking environment.

    Given U of M’s gravitas in AA and it’s manifest influence on our citiy’s administration….

    Well, let’s just remind the public that regardless of what the Mayor says, any potential victim will always be the first responder to their own critical incident.

    Plan ahead and plan accordingly.

    Be safe out there.

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