How the Salisbury Police and Other Police Departments Alter their FBI Crime Statistics Under Pressure to Make Their Municipalities Look Good

Posted on September 18, 2016

The Editor and our friends in area law enforcement

This article would not be possible without the assistance of persons, active or retired from area law enforcement, whose considerable wealth of knowledge and experience helped shed light on the all too common practice of fudging crime statistics to make a city appear far safer than it actually is. Officers who care and abide by high ethical standards will always step up.

There are numerous ways for the Salisbury Police Department and other such agencies alter their FBI crime Statistics under pressure to make their municipalities look good.  The need to appear less plagued by crime, especially in municipalities overwhelmed by violent and property crime like Salisbury, gets driven by economic realities and the need to keep and attract residents. When persons experience a lack of safety they move away from cities if they have the economic wherewithal. Economic development draws to a standstill in cities under siege–businesses don’t come to or start up in high crime municipalities. Real estate values plummet as people move away. Vacant and abandoned houses and buildings grow in number. Higher paying jobs disappear.  Poverty mushrooms.

“There are lies, damned lies, and statistics,” said Mark Twain. Had Twain lived in Salisbury he might’ve said: “If no report is filed, no statistics exist.”

Salisbury, N.C. and the FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR)

Like thousands of law enforcement agencies nationwide, Salisbury uses the F.B.I. Uniform Crime Report (UCR) guidelines for filing crime reports. These are the standard for several decades. The UCR consists of Part One and Part Two offenses. The more serious crimes are in Part One and less serious are Part Two. Information gathered in police reports, using the UCR guidelines, is forwarded to the F.B.I. for inclusion in their database.

It’s not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to “fudge” some on crime report classifications. For example, an aggravated assault may be reported as simple assault. Or a burglary, if not much was stolen, may be reported as vandalism. Officers have a bit of discretion in filing crime reports. Example: a mentally disturbed individual reports being assaulted by extra-galactic aliens. Of course such reports never get filed. The bottom line is the UCR guidelines are quite clear about when a report should be filed and how it should be classified.

Sometimes law enforcement agencies may go from one extreme to another. Instead of minimizing crime reports, they may escalate them. Example: Some federal grant money becomes available for combatting arson crimes. Suddenly every kid playing with matches is an “arsonist.” The subsequent increase in arson reports may help an agency qualify for grant money.

A serious problem in many jurisdictions is unreported crime. Any town with a serious drug epidemic is going to have a lot of unreported crime. Addicts and their dealers constantly victimize each other and they don’t usually file police reports. But the crimes still occurred. If a victim doesn’t come forward not a whole lot that can be done. What we hope never happens is that officers will just stop taking crime reports. When it occurs it is due to administrative negligence or possibly even encouragement by police command personnel. It is also possible that such negligence or encouragement could arrive right out of city hall. After all, wouldn’t a city’s crime statistics appear good if no reports get filed?

Here are many of the common methods employed to underreport crime:

Classify a breaking and entering as misdemeanor larceny.

Alter estimates on stolen property, reduced value can drop the incident from a felony to a misdemeanor

Portray injuries as less serious to reduce an aggravated felony assault to simple misdemeanor assault.

Classify a stolen vehicle to misdemeanor unauthorized use of conveyance (a charge typically meant for a teenager “joy-riding” in a car with no intent to permanently deprive owner of the vehicle)

Classify murder as suicide.

Classify robbery as larceny to reduce violent crime.

Classify a sexual assault as an assault on female (misdemeanor) or a non-violent sexual offense such as statutory rape

A deliberate use of motor vehicle as a weapon to intentionally strike another can be reported on DMV 349 as a simple crash, with no criminal intent.

Classify any Part I offense to Part II. Part II offenses are not tracked like Part I and will not have same impact on reported criminal activity It’s obviously to a department’s benefit if a crime is “possession of stolen goods” as opposed to the actual Part I offense of larceny. Similarly, a break-in reported as a vandalism drops from Part I to Part II.

The majority of serious criminal activity has lesser misdemeanor charges that are similar but meant for lesser acts. Assaults can range from 1st degree murder to assault with deadly weapons inflicting serious injury to simple affray (public fighting) Each level is intended to provide greater punishment for more serious criminal acts, but unfortunately, they also provide a “step-back” for a less honest chief to downgrade his reported numbers.

The second, and far more serious way to effect numbers, is plain refusal to take reports of crime. This can be done by claiming the reporting party is mistaken/dishonest or that a crime which occurred inside an agencies jurisdiction occurred elsewhere. Another method is to “take” a report from the victim on-scene and never file it.

Part one offenses are: homicide, rape (which includes sexual offenses such as non-consentual oral or anal sexual acts), robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson

Part two offenses include: simple assaults, forgery, fraud, embezzlement, possession of stolen property, vandalism, weapons violations, non-forcible sexual offenses (such as prostitution), drug abuse, gambling, non-violent offenses against family, DWI and other traffic offenses, liquor laws, and all other offenses.

Background on UCR – it’s all derived from the information agencies submit either directly or to the state which then forwards it.

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