EPD: Crime stats were inaccurate, but corrected data improves
Commissioner, candidates point out errors
— The Elkton Police Department stepped back from crime rate statistics it promoted last week amid questions from a sitting town commissioner and the candidates challenging incumbents in Tuesday’s town election.
Commissioner DJ VanReenen, who has been a frequent critic of town business since being elected two years ago, and the candidates he is
backing, Bob Gorman and Chris Zeauskas, in the municipal election to unseat commissioners Earl Piner and Charles Givens approached the Whig this week about statistics published and promoted by the police department shortly after a Whig article was published May 13 quoting the statistics.
At question were the statistics used to compute the year- to- year change of total, Part I and Part II crimes in town. Part I crimes are crimes of violence, such as murder, rape and aggravated assaults, while Part II crimes are often referred to a “quality of life” crimes, including those such as drug offenses, burglaries, vandalism, prostitution, fraud, trespassing and simple assaults, which typically applies when there is “mutual combat” resulting in minor or no injuries.
VanReenen, Gorman and Zeauskas compared the statistics promoted by the department to the official end- of- year totals reported to the FBI for its Uniform Crime Reports and noticed glaring discrepancies. Some of the statistics used for computations were off by more than 100 Part I crimes, 500 Part II crimes and 600 total crimes. Their work was independently verified by the Whig and brought to the attention of the Elkton Police Department.
On Wednesday, Elkton Police Capt. Joseph Zurolo, agency spokesman, said the errors were the result of a records system change and inaccurate statistical accounting. He explained that he tasked two staff members with compiling the data, but later learned that they did not have the necessary permissions to access the department’s former records management system — the town switched to an updated system in September.
Instead of consulting the official FBI data, which could have been found online, those staff members tallied the department’s unofficial monthly reports instead, Zurolo said. In regards to Part II crimes, those compiling the statistics also failed to include hundreds of simple assaults in town each year, mistakenly thinking they had already been computed in Part I crimes, he added.
“I take full credit for the errors that were made,” Zurolo said. “But the good news from all this is that the true statistics show crime is down even further.”
The new data shows a 5.95 percent decrease in the total crime when compared to the town’s fiveyear average, instead of the previously reported 3.6 percent. When compared to 2014, the total crime rate is down 6 percent.
In Part I crimes, the new data shows a 2.9 percent decrease rather than a 1.4 percent increase when compared to the five- year average. When compared to 2014, the Part I crime rate is down almost 1 percent.
In Part II crimes, the new data shows a 7.8 percent decrease rather than a 7.4 percent decrease when compared to the five- year average. When compared to 2014, the Part II crime rate is down more than 9 percent.
For those who brought the errors to light, however, the situation draws even more questions.
On Thursday, Zeauskas said it’s a “little convenient” that the police department released the statistics just a few weeks prior to the increasingly contentious town election. The town’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 124 chose to endorse the incumbents over the challengers, who have made increased police force numbers and a new substation a part of their platform. The lodge has particular interest in the election because its negotiated contract with the town will expire in June 2017.
When the department’s reported numbers didn’t seem to jive with their own research into the town’s crime, however, Gorman and Zeauskas sough to find out why.
“It’s surprising to me that these errors were made because they actually worked in the police department’s favor,” Zeauskas said. “It doesn’t feel to me that crime is down. We’ve knocked on a lot of doors in this town and I’d say at least 80 percent of people have told us that crime is still an issue for them. So I think numbers can be interpreted a lot of ways.”
Gorman, who is statistician by profession, agreed with Zeauskas and offered up the example of Elkton’s decision to forgo a parking meter enforcement officer for a stretch in recent years.
“In that situation, you can say parking violations went down, but in actuality you just don’t have anyone enforcing the laws,” he said. “Oftentimes in statistics if there is a surprise, there’s a problem.”
VanReenen echoed the candidates’ sentiment, particularly questioning the reported large decline in Part II crimes. He argues that the nearly 8 percent drop compared to the five- year average is attributable to the fact that the police has carried eight wanted, but unfilled officer positions for the past few years. With fewer officers on the street, there are fewer case files being opened on petty criminals, he said.
Zurolo attributed the decline in all crimes to a greater police presence in town in recent years as the result of calculated “saturation patrols” in some of the more troublesome areas of the town.
VanReenen also questioned how the public was supposed to determine progress in crime rate statistics when it is only ever compared to itself. While online resources frequently rank municipalities against each other, police departments have cautioned the public from doing so, explaining that differing characteristics of each community affect its policing.
“These statistics may show that crime is down in town, but do we feel any safer?” VanReenen asked. “If we don’t feel any safer, then who are we supposed to compare ourselves to in order to determine where we need to be?”