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February 6, 2013

KPD says crime data is wrong

City underreported thefts to FBI in 2012

— Kokomo police are changing the way they collect and file information on local theft cases, after mistakenly reporting a 34 percent drop in thefts in 2012.

Crime data sent last month to the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicated Kokomo had 660 fewer thefts in 2012 than the year before, an unprecedented drop Kokomo police were unable to immediately explain.

Tuesday, Kokomo Police Chief Rob Baker said those numbers failed to include more than 700 instances of theft where officers did not make a formal report.

Last year, Baker said, officers were allowed for the first time to forgo a formal report under certain circumstances, at the officer’s discretion.

If the case was minor, if there were no suspects or if the victim wasn’t able to give serial numbers from missing items, officers were able to simply allow emergency dispatchers to take information and generate a case number, which the victims could then use to send in to their insurance, Baker said.

Allowing officers to default to a “dispatch-generated report” was an attempt to free up officers’ time, so officers could be out on patrol more and in the office less, he said.

Last week, the KPD ended the experiment with dispatch-generated reports, Baker said, because the reports don’t meet FBI guidelines.

Local law enforcement agencies are required to report murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts and auto thefts to the FBI, as part of the Universal Crime Report system maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The UCR data is used for a myriad of purposes, from media reports to academic research. Local officials use the data to compare crime problems in cities with similar demographics.

Baker said the FBI requires local agencies to collect “pertinent information” on every case, including names and addresses, and sometimes personal information such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth.

That information wasn’t collected for the dispatch-generated reports, so those cases weren’t reported to the FBI, he said.

“The problem is that over the phone, your dispatchers and front-desk personnel can’t ask you for pertinent information,” Baker said. “A lot of people won’t give their Social Security numbers over the phone.

“If a police officer is there in person, and is taking the information down, that’s one thing. But over the phone is something else.”

Baker and Maj. Brian Seldon said they weren’t aware of a problem with the data until the Kokomo Tribune questioned it last month.

Since then, the department has gone back to taking formal reports for every reported theft, and has begun looking into other ways of streamlining the report-taking process.

Baker said Howard County sheriff deputies are already able to complete reports using the computer in their squad cars.

He said the KPD is talking to a software vendor in hopes of moving to a similar system.

“We’ve corrected the issue, and we’re looking at ways of becoming more efficient,” Baker said.

Baker said the department won’t be correcting the FBI numbers, because there is no way of going back and collecting all of the required data missing from the dispatch-generated reports.

That means the data for Kokomo will permanently show a 34 percent drop in thefts between 2011 and 2012, and will presumably show a similarly large increase when the 2013 data is reported next January.

In the nine years prior to 2012, the number of thefts in Kokomo had not increased or decreased more than 6 percent in any one year, according to the UCR data.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com

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