EPD: Crime stats were in­ac­cu­rate, but cor­rected data im­proves

Com­mis­sioner, can­di­dates point out er­rors

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By JACOB OWENS

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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

ELKTON

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?”

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