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UPDATE AT 12:14 p.m.: Dallas Police Chief David Brown this morning was asked what impact changes in crime reporting practices have had on overall crime reductions of the past 10 years.

The chief defended his department’s statistics and argued that recent reporting changes have had only a minimal impact on the numbers.

“This is a fringe conversation that every major city deals with from particular reporters or particular media that really gravitates toward this hyper-criticism,” Brown said.

His comments came during a discussion with City Council members about historic reductions in crime over the past ten years. Most Council members and Mayor Mike Rawlings praised Brown and said they were pleased with the numbers.

Only one Council member, Scott Griggs, questioned the chief about what impact the changes in crime reporting have had on the reductions.

Griggs said he believes good police work is the key reason for the decreases. But he asked, “What part of the crime reduction is just due to the manner in which we’ve changed statistics?”

Brown said recent changes, such as a Department policy that made it harder for store owners to report small-time shoplifting, were implemented for efficiency reasons so that police officers could be freed up to focus more resources on bootleg operations that buy and sell stolen goods.

Such reporting changes are “just very small fringes of our total 45 percent crime reduction. So if the critics are 100 percent right in their analysis, the shoplift policy change was about 3 percent or less of the 10 percent reduction we had” last year.

The DMN reported earlier this year that the net effect of the shoplifting policy change “is that about a third of Dallas’ highly touted 11 percent drop in crime last year came about because police no longer respond to the shoplifting calls and retailers are reluctant to hassle with reporting the petty thefts.”

Brown said good police work and sacrifices are behind very real drops in crime.

The chief also pointed to the fact that the murder rate is the lowest it has been since 1958 “and we’re not hiding any bodies,” he said.

Council member Jerry Allen said his colleagues must highlight the positive when it comes to public safety.

“It’s easy for the lazy man to always come up with the negativity and report the negativity,” Allen said. “I’m glad you pointed out that on some of these property crimes that maybe the disputes might be … difference deemed immaterial.”

“People want to harp on that and that goes back to the negativity,” Allen said. “I find that moving citizens in the wrong direction.”

ORIGINAL POST @ 8:03 a.m.: It’s one of the most common refrains of Dallas Police Chief David Brown.

His city has experienced the most significant crime reduction over the past ten years of any city with a population of 1 million or more.

In a briefing to City Council members today, the chief will back up that claim with statistics.

But those statistics ought to come with a few asterisks.

First, an important point that is actually noted on the introductory page of the briefing.

“While the FBI cautions against the ranking of statistical data specific to each jurisdiction, publications and other media use this method of comparison to inform the public,” Interim First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans said in a memo to Council members. “Therefore, you will be briefed in this format.”

So, essentially, we should not be comparing cities in this manner, but we’re going to do it anyway.

The media do not get all the blame on this one.

As previously stated, Brown is quick to compare Dallas crime stats to other cities when it makes his hometown look good. In addition, Mayor Mike Rawlings has said for years that he wants the city to be one of the five safest big cities in America, which is measured by overall crime rate.

Another problem with the recent reported reductions is that back in July 2007 DPD officials said they discovered that they had been incorrectly reporting crimes to the FBI for years.

The DMN’s Tanya Eiserer reported at the time:

Dallas police say that they have incorrectly reported crimes to the FBI for years and that doing their math right may knock the city off its perch as the most crime-ridden major city in America.

Statistics obtained Tuesday show that crime has been flat in Dallas for the first half of the year. But police say they recently discovered that they hadn’t been following the FBI’s guidelines on reporting many property crimes such as theft or car burglaries.

In some cases, the rules allow multiple crimes to be reported as a single criminal act. For example, cities can count break-ins that occur within minutes of one another and are thought to have been committed by the same burglar as one criminal act, not 10 crimes, when reporting numbers to the FBI.

Then-Chief David Kunkle told Eiserer, “It’s good that we found it, but it’s bad that we didn’t find it years ago … It helps us so we can focus on serious crime fighting.”

The drop in crime based on that reporting tweak was likely significant and that would account for part of that ten-year reduction that Brown touts.

But perhaps most significant are the ongoing questions about DPD’s reporting practices.

Beginning in 2009, Eiserer and colleague Steve Thompson authored a series of stories that showed that Dallas police intentionally don’t follow federal crime reporting guidelines. They showed that in 2007 the department began aggressively conforming to those guidelines that brought the stats down (changes that they made public), while deviating from guidelines that would push the stats up (changes that they kept quiet).

The stories highlighted problems with the way police report burglaries and assaults.

More recently, Dallas police enthusiastically touted overall crime reductions for 2012. But, as my colleagues reported, that reduction was due in part to a change in how shoplifting cases are documented:

A police policy that made it harder for store owners to report small-time shoplifting cases brought down petty shoplifting reports by a whopping 75 percent in Dallas last year. The shoplifting continues, but much of it is no longer reported or counted as a crime.

The policy that went into effect early last year requires retailers to report thefts under $50 by mail. Police don’t come to the scene of the crime anymore except in certain situations, such as when a theft suspect refuses to identify himself or herself. Even then, officers are not supposed to issue a citation or fill out a police report.

According to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News, the net effect is that about a third of Dallas’ highly touted 11 percent drop in crime last year came about because police no longer respond to the shoplifting calls and retailers are reluctant to hassle with reporting the petty thefts.

It’s clear that overall crime in Dallas has gone down over the past two decades, just as it has in major cities all over the country. What’s less clear is precisely how much it’s gone down and how we measure up to those other cities — or whether we should be comparing ourselves to those other cities at all.

Original article