Chicago’s inspector general: You can trust police crime stats

April 9, 2014

(WBEZ File/Patrick Smith)
Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy speaks at a press conference June 2013.

In the HBO show “The Wire,” the police are always slicing and dicing the crime stats to see if they can make them look better than they actually are. That’s not how Chicago police operate, according to a report by Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson, the former federal prosecutor whose independent office looks for fraud and inefficiencies in city departments.

Ferguson audited a sample of the police statistics on assault-related crimes and said he found “an organization, Chicago Police Department, that is very, very focused and conscious and conscientious with respect to what it is reporting into its system.”

(Editor's note: The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times both reported that in this same report, Ferguson found that police were undercounting assaults by 24 percent. That is part of the inspector general’s report, but Ferguson’s main finding remains that police are actually doing a good job.)

Ferguson looked at whether crimes were classified properly given the facts laid out in police reports and said he found few errors.

In an interview with WBEZ Ferguson said his office decided to audit police stats because the department makes up a large piece of the city’s budget and workforce and the reporting of crime stats has rarely been examined by an independent agency. “In an age where we stress data and we report out data more and more, it’s important that somebody actually looks at the data and the systems that underlie it,” he said.

“Data in this day and age and the integrity of that data is really kind of the foundation, the seedbed for public confidence that the information it’s receiving is reliable,” Ferguson said, “and that the assessments as to whether we’re making progress really are something that you can take to the bank.”

CPD under-reported assaults

While Ferguson says CPD is doing a good job reporting crime stats based on his sampling, he found the city was under-reporting assault related incidents to the Illinois State Police. That agency compiles stats for the FBI’s national crime figures. Chicago police were reporting incidents of assaults rather than victims so a fight in which three people were injured was being classified as one incident instead of three offenses--that’s where the 24 percent undercount came in. Chicago police say they were alerted to the discrepancy by Ferguson’s audit and are correcting the problem.

While Ferguson’s study focused on whether crimes were appropriately classified based on the facts in police reports, he didn’t actually double check the facts in those police reports. He says that’s an area that should be audited in the future.

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