Po­lice ea­ger to break in new re­port­ing sys­tem

Re­sources will be bet­ter al­lo­cated, trends high­lighted, de­part­ment says

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - By NA­HEED RAJWANI Staff Writer nra­jwani@dal­las­news.com

Vi­o­lent crime in Dal­las climbed to a four-year high last year but re­mains at his­tor­i­cally low lev­els, po­lice records show.

Don’t be sur­prised if the trend con­tin­ues — and maybe wors­ens — this year, as po­lice be­gin us­ing a dif­fer­ent method of count­ing crimes.

But they say the new ac­count­ing sys­tem, which is be­com­ing a stan­dard across the coun­try, will help them bet­ter keep the peace.

An an­nual re­view of vi­o­lent crimes in Dal­las shows de­clines in some ar­eas last year — mur­ders, for ex­am­ple, dropped from 172 to 165 — and in­creases in oth­ers. Rapes and ag­gra­vated as­saults were on the rise.

The changes con­tinue a trend and aren’t a sur­prise to po­lice or ex­perts, who say it’s nor­mal for crime to creep up af­ter years of de­cline.

Prop­erty crime, how­ever, is de­clin­ing over­all, thanks to a steep drop in res­i­den­tial bur­glar­ies. Busi­ness bur­glar­ies and car thefts, on the other hand, were up.

Po­lice of­fi­cials ex­pect the num­bers to in­crease this year but say that’s partly be­cause they’re chang­ing how they re­port on crimes in the city.

The de­part­ment is in the process of switch­ing to the Na­tional In­ci­dent-Based Re­port­ing Sys­tem, known as NIBRS, from the tra­di­tional and less­de­tailed Uni­form Crime Re­port­ing sys­tem that has been used for many years.

The FBI wants ev­ery agency in the coun­try to even­tu­ally switch to NIBRS so their data can align with one another.

Dal­las has an open-records por­tal on­line show­ing re­ported crimes and for sev­eral years weighed adopt­ing the new sys­tem, which has been around since the 1980s, be­fore de­cid­ing to make the switch.

Po­lice said the data will help them im­prove how they al­lo­cate their re­sources, while show­ing trends and high­light­ing so­cial is­sues.

The Po­lice De­part­ment turned down an in­ter­view re­quest from The Dal­las Morn­ing

News this week to talk about the switch, say­ing it is plan­ning a “me­dia event” to an­nounce the changes next month.

‘Makes more sense’

Dr. An­drew Wheeler, a crim­i­nol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Texas at Dal­las, said NIBRS data will al­low the pub­lic to an­a­lyze char­ac­ter­is­tics of cases — such as the type of weapon used or whether the sus­pect and vic­tim knew each other — to chart trends.

“NIBRS in gen­eral makes more sense for every­body,” Wheeler said. “It al­lows you to com­pare from dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions as well.”

Re­ported crime in Dal­las is at his­toric lows, but re­cent in­creases in cer­tain crimes have be­come harder to ad­dress be­cause of staffing is­sues within the Po­lice De­part­ment. About 460 of­fi­cers left the de­part­ment last year alone.

Com­man­ders have had to look to “force mul­ti­pli­ers” to ad­dress crime, giv­ing busi­nesses in­cen­tives to mount sur­veil­lance cam­eras, for in­stance.

Po­lice Chief U. Renee Hall has even sug­gested a pro­gram that would let po­lice mon­i­tor such cam­eras re­motely.

Also, the City Coun­cil passed an or­di­nance last month to al­low Hall to pub­licly shame prop­erty own­ers who tol­er­ate crime and to try to get them to ad­dress it.

The new re­port­ing sys­tem may help po­lice bet­ter un­der­stand the city’s pub­lic safety needs.

Dal­las po­lice plan to adopt NIBRS early this year. They said the sys­tem will al­low them to re­port in­for­ma­tion about vic­tims and of­fend­ers, and to count mul­ti­ple crimes for any given in­ci­dent to give a clearer pic­ture of crime in the city.

It’s un­clear how data from the sys­tem will be shared with the pub­lic. Po­lice said their pub­lic data por­tal will have a black­out pe­riod dur­ing the tran­si­tion process, so it’s pos­si­ble the NIBRS data will be shared there.

Po­lice have talked about NIBRS for sev­eral years. In 2014, they said a switch was im­mi­nent. Some City Coun­cil mem­bers had re­peat­edly asked po­lice dur­ing pub­lic meet­ings for in­for­ma­tion about the num­ber of crime vic­tims and ques­tioned their re­port­ing prac­tices un­der UCR.

It’s un­clear why the changes have taken this long to im­ple­ment, and po­lice of­fi­cials didn’t make them­selves avail­able to ex­plain.

Two cat­e­gories

The ex­ist­ing crime track­ing sys­tem sorts crimes into two um­brella cat­e­gories: vi­o­lent and non­vi­o­lent. Those cat­e­gories have smaller sub­cat­e­gories, such as mur­ders, sex­ual as­saults and thefts.

In the past, a deadly rob­bery in­volv­ing three vic­tims at a con­ve­nience store would be grouped into one of­fense, with the mur­der tak­ing pri­or­ity as the most se­ri­ous crime.

But in the NIBRS ap­proach, po­lice can count it as three rob­beries and a mur­der.

Po­lice warn that the change could come with sticker shock.

In May, then-as­sis­tant Po­lice Chief John Law­ton told the coun­cil’s pub­lic safety com­mit­tee that po­lice were ex­pect­ing a “small in­crease” in the num­ber of crime re­ports be­cause mul­ti­ple of­fenses could re­sult from a sin­gle in­ci­dent.

“So you would have more of­fenses that are be­ing tracked,” he said.

To al­low for a bet­ter, more ac­cu­rate com­par­i­son of crime from year to year, po­lice plan to col­lect both NIBRS and the tra­di­tional Uni­form Crime Re­port­ing data.

They also in­tend to hold com­mu­nity meet­ings once the new sys­tem goes live to ex­plain the tran­si­tion.

Fort Worth po­lice have used NIBRS for more than a decade.

The city’s pub­lic safety sup­port man­ager said in a 2014 in­ter­view that there had not been many prob­lems since im­ple­ment­ing NIBRS.

“It didn’t have any huge ef­fect on our crime other than that we are more trans­par­ent,” said Melony Ebel, the sup­port man­ager. “And it shows more crime.”

Fort Worth wrote in a re­port this month that the NIBRS data was “nec­es­sary and valu­able” within the de­part­ment and for its in­ter­ac­tions with the pub­lic.

2016 File Photo/Staff

Dal­las po­lice re­spond to a shoot­ing near the VA Med­i­cal Cen­ter. The de­part­ment says crime data col­lec­tion through the Na­tional In­ci­dent-Based Re­port­ing Sys­tem will help of­fi­cials bet­ter al­lo­cate re­sources, show trends and high­light so­cial is­sues.

Tom Fox/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Egll­gt3cWAT37o13in t3re­turned to their ve­hi­cles af­ter an hours-long in­ci­dent last month in the Bryan Place neigh­bor­hood. They ar­rested a man sus­pected in four bank rob­beries.

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