Falsifying Reports

The headline states something like: “Officers Accused of Falsifying Reports.” What thoughts enter your mind when you hear about police faking reports? Would you select one of these answers below to describe the probable content of the news article?

Reports were falsified because:

(a) Officers wanted to steal money or possessions.
(b) Officers needed to cover-up excessive force.
(c) Officers were involved in sexual misdeeds.
(d) All of the Above
(e) None of the Above

Just for the record, I have always hated multiple choice exams with all or none of the above as options.

As for the Detroit story, if you selected “(e) None of the Above” then you win a gold star for the day. The article on falsifying reports does not center on money, police force, or sexual activity (well not directly), the reason officers the are accused of submitting false reports is… drum roll… to make an apparently ineffective sting operation look successful.

Yes, officers are accused of making prostitution arrests in one part of Detroit, and stating that the illegal activity was occurring in another area of town. The officers could then count the enforcement activity as the positive results of their sting known as Operation Ice Breaker.

…The cops labeled it Operation Ice Breaker, a city-suburban law enforcement effort to bust drug dealers and prostitutes along 8 Mile.

Instead, seven Detroit vice cops have been suspended with pay on allegations of falsifying the arrest reports.

The allegations against the cops are: They couldn't find any prostitutes on 8 Mile, so they went to Harper and Chalmers on the east side and arrested five people for prostitution during three days in mid-February. The officers are accused of writing their report to say the busts happened on 8 Mile to fit the roundup's purpose.

Members of the Board of Police Commissioners last week refused to suspend the cops without pay, despite a recommendation from police executives and Chief James Barren...
I had two observations about the incident. First, the article states that seven officers were under investigation. I am assuming the generic term of officers is being used and that these are not all line personnel. It will be interesting to see the ranks of the officers-—as this type of behavior is certainly the brainchild of supervisors.

Supervisors would be the ones under pressure to report positive numbers regarding a specific initiative like a sting. I believe officers would be just fine reporting zeros in activity ("nope, we tried our best but did not find any prostitution or drugs on 8 mile today") if the folks in charge were ok with it.

Second, the story reminds me of several years ago when the media began using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) to try to make direct comparisons about the safety of major US cities. As one would imagine, politicians and administrators began demanding lower UCR violent crime rates in their jurisdictions, and some police (civilian and sworn) were caught fudging numbers to make their city appear safer.

The pressure to produce is present in every line of work—and policing is no different. In the agency that I worked as well as hearing anecdotal information, the message given by administrators to line officers regarding new initiatives is that we encourage innovation in our police agencies—-just as long as you are sure it will work immediately. This represents a major stumbling block in viewing policing as a profession where best practices are pursued.

With problem-oriented policing and other similar strategies, officers are encouraged to try new approaches, and to fine-tune them when they initially show marginal or unsuccessful results (as many times new things do). In reality, many departments have no tolerance for setbacks and the pressure to show immediate success can be overwhelming for personnel of any rank.

If this burden is not mitigated correctly by folks in charge, police personnel may find themselves in situations like those officers in Detroit-—accused of incorrectly listing the address of arrests to show instant program success.


mappchik said...

The ease of finding information today is a wonderful thing - I like transparency. It's a shame the story behind the red flags isn't as easy to get as the "records falsified" - because it lumps the embarrassing but harmless and bureaucratic nonsense "(e) none of the above" reasons with the (a), (b) and (c).

I guess my question now is, how did it to the point where it's not okay for officers (or the higher ups) to write in a report "Our sting operations and extra patrols worked. The criminals we were targeting scattered to other areas, so we went looking for them."

Atlanta was one of the cities caught fudging numbers to improve the annual reports to the FBI a few years ago. I remember thinking at the time that I understood why they did it, but they had to know somebody would see the crimes moved around to other categories at some point.

Slamdunk said...

Sorry it took me so long to respond to this (barfing kiddo)--my response to your question is that I think tainted results have been around as long as funding is tied to those results. The prostitution/drug problem either was not as bad as originally portrayed, was more covert than the selected operation could address, or the officers were just unlucky. It is unfortunate that the supervisors felt the need to cheat rather than report honest numbers and therefore risk losing future funding.

I am not familiar with Atlanta's incident. I can say that there are several ways to cheat on the UCRs and moving numbers around is probably at medium risk for getting caught--through an audit. High risk cheating is simply falsifying the FBI reports and when those numbers are compared to actual computerized numbers at the agency--they don't match.

In contrast, low risk cheating (I would say every agency has done this), is to classify a Part I crime (robbery, burglary, etc.) as something else.

For example, an officer responds to a robbery report and finds an intoxicated man stating that another intoxicated man knocked him down and took his money. The officer decides that the case is not worth his time and tells the victim to either go sober up and call in later or writes up the report as a theft--both result in a robbery that is not reported as one on the UCRs.

mappchik said...

Hope the kiddo is feeling better - and that the bug didn't spread.

In Atlanta's case, it was the rape numbers being fudged, and possibly assaults too. It's been a while.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks the little boy is still a mess, but is at least drinking liquids some now.