SIMMONS: In the dark is nowhere to be about crime information

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier made major announcements recently, including a decline in homicide rates, but here’s information you had to read in The Washington Times.

“Glitches in the Metropolitan Police Department’s new data-management system are preventing officials from producing a key comprehensive crime report that tells authorities whether the crime rate is getting better or worse in D.C. neighborhoods and across the city,” reads Wednesday’s article by Andrea Noble.

If this regrettable state of affairs occurred in Any City, USA, it wouldn’t necessarily be worthy of national concern.

But the District of Columbia is the nation’s capital, and that means all Americans have a financial stake in what goes on in the city because it receives special stipends from Congress and the White House.

At issue is the department’s use of a new data-management system called I/Leads, which has cost more than $1.8 million since being put into use one year ago.

The glitches include the old garbage-in, garbage-out theory and, more important, an unwise policy decision that led to the suspension of the department’s Morning Crime Report.

Internal dissemination of the morning report helps keep patrol officers and detectives on their toes regarding crime trends such as possible serial arsons, burglaries, sex-related offenses and hate crimes, as well as cellphone thefts and car break-ins. The reports also aid in giving a heads-up to businesses, Metro and federal law enforcement and neighborhood patrols.

The lack of comparable data means analysts cannot at first blush compare or possibly even connect crimes over stretches of time.

Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said the department and I/Leads teams are working hard to identify and resolve known issues and, of course, review crime reports. That still makes people uneasy because there’s a possibility of crime-reporting discrepancies.

In fact, that is what led to Ms. Noble’s article.

On Oct. 23, she cited statistics from the Oct. 22 Morning Crime Report, which said 61 robberies had been committed from Oct. 19 through 21, during Chief Lanier’s All Hands on Deck anti-crime blitz — 21 more than the previous weekend. The news didn’t sit well with the police department, which disputed the numbers and said there were just 49 robberies.

The statistical discrepancy, the department said, was inexplicable, but Ms. Noble’s reporting also shows the possibility that technical glitches could create public blackouts.

“The department’s online crime-mapping technology, which allows users to access crime data for all parts of the city, has been disabled twice this year,” her story says. “The crime maps were first taken down in January and February to enable the department to reorganize data for newly realigned police districts. The information blackout coincided with a 40 percent increase in violent crime. The technology was disabled again in mid-September during the conversion to the new system.”

See no evil on the maps and crime reports, hear no evil at morning briefings, speak no evil to the public and the media.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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