By JJ Hensley The Republic | azcentral.com Wed Aug 21, 2013 2:19 PM
Reported aggravated assaults in Phoenix will decrease after police determined nearly 1,000 of the crimes were mistakenly categorized as a more serious offense when they were actually simple assaults, according to a police spokesman.
Police officials consider the reclassification of the crimes a “reporting error” uncovered as administrators sought to determine why their statistics showed a dramatic increase in aggravated assaults, which grew by more than 40 percent from 2012 to 2013.
“The number of reports that were recoded represents about 80 percent or better of the increase we saw in aggravated assaults,” said Sgt. Trent Crump, a department spokesman. “We know that we have approximately the same number of person-on-person victims as last year. What we’re looking at now is our coding process.”
The misidentified reports were an unanticipated byproduct of Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia’s effort to give patrol officers and commanders real-time crime data, Crump said.
As part of that effort, Garcia initiated a crime-coding process last November that included clerks who reviewed each crime report and categorized it based on factors including the nature of the victim’s injuries. The reports are typically filed with potential charges determined by the arresting officer. Before Garcia initiated the review process last November, commanders and detectives reviewed the reports and made changes to the charges on about 1 percent of the reports, Crump said.
Under the new system, the clerks changed the potential charges in nearly 16 percent of the reports, he said.
“We’re not going to be changing an incident count,” Crump said. “We know how many assaults we have. The question here is which category do they belong in and how do we correctly interpret them?”
The clerks might have changed some of the charges to match the definition of aggravated assault in Arizona’s revised statutes with the categories the FBI has in its nationwide uniform-crime reporting database, Crump said.
If an officer took an assault victim to the hospital for X-rays that showed no broken bones, the officer could classify the crime as a simple assault. However, a clerk reviewing the report might enhance the crime to become an aggravated assault simply because the victim was taken to the hospital, not realizing the victim did not need medical attention.
“There are a lot of assault statutes within our (Arizona Revised Statutes),” Crump said. “And only a few of those equal an aggravated assault.”
It is not the department’s first struggle with accurately reporting crime. The department’s data on home-invasions and kidnappings included on a federal-grant application came under scrutiny after it was alleged the agency intentionally miscategorized some crimes to artificially inflate the numbers to increase the chances of getting the grant.
A review found that some reports should not have been cited for the grant, but many others that could have qualified as home invasions or kidnappings were not cited, making the error a wash. The controversy over the numbers played a role in the ouster of former Chief Jack Harris, who was forced out of office in March 2011.
A team of officers is reviewing about 3,600 assault reports that date to November to determine how many might have been miscategorized and where the department can strengthen its reporting instructions to clear up some of the discrepancies between state law and the FBI’s categories, Crump said.
“The coding effort was a part of trying to get real-time data so we could deploy our troops better,” Crump said. “What we don’t want to do is deploy manpower based on miscoded reports.”