When the Founders chose the swampy marshland along the Potomac River to serve as the home for the federal government, they couldn't have envisioned it would one day become a cesspool of violence. While crime rates have steadily declined in the rest of the country, the trajectory in the District is up. Or maybe it's down. It depends on whom you ask.
The only certainty is that the odds of being a crime victim are much higher in D.C. than anywhere nearby. There were 108 homicides in Washington last year, but neighboring Montgomery County and Fairfax County each only saw 16 homicides last year, despite having significantly higher populations.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) website, violent crime is up 8 percent in the nation's capital so far in 2012. From 2010 to 2011, violent crime was up 2 percent and all crime by 5 percent. The report Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told a different story, that violent crime was down 6 percent and all crime was up just 2 percent.
The difference depends on whether the numbers are counted according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) methodology, or using the system, updated in real time, that classifies incidents according to the city's criminal code. Chief Lanier's opinion on which rating system is best depends on the results.
For the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) annual report on crime released Sept. 12, Chief Lanier cited numbers in the FBI format, which made MPD look more effective. "As the COG report on UCR Part I crime shows, all crime in DC fell in 2011 except larcenies," the chief emailed to The Washington Times. "As the 2011 report shows, people in the District are safer than ever."
This seems a marked shift from a couple years ago. In 2010, she emailed The Washington Examiner about the 2009 numbers that, "I don't use the FBI [Uniform Crime Reporting] statistics to draw any conclusions. ... They are not reflective of true crime in D.C." She also downplayed FBI numbers for 2008 when it showed violent crime increased.
The difference between the numbers can often be stark. MPD's website shows 4,184 robberies committed with or without a gun in 2011, but the UCR shows only 3,756. That means 428 robberies -- more than one a day -- vanished from the books. An MPD spokesman explained that the FBI counts robberies without threat or violence as "larceny." For assaults, police apparently pick which ones "count" before sending figures to the feds.
"It is inexcusable that we are not providing accurate, consistent numbers to the public," said Kristopher Baumann, head of Washington's police union. "This is public safety, not public relations. If the department is willing to mislead about something as important and basic as crime numbers, what aren't they willing to be deceptive about?"
Mr. Baumann explained that it is important to give the public “honest” numbers about the level of crime to both force the politicians to accept and confront the problem and to ask the public and the city council to redistribute or justify more resources.
Washingtonians deserve the truth about what's happening in their city, and MPD needs to be more forthcoming and transparent with its crime data.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.