Statistics downplay violent offenses
By AMELIA HARPER and LINDELL JOHN KAY
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Many local law enforcement officials, including officers who work for Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore, don't believe his recent report that violent crime in the city is at historic lows.
In a mid-July press release, Moore stated that since 2012 — the year he became chief — his department has had “phenomenal success” in reducing serious crime, with violent crime at the lowest point since 1989.
Not mentioned in Moore’s press release is the city’s homicide rate, which has doubled so far this year over 2016. Last year, there were four reported homicides; so far in 2017 there have been eight shooting deaths in the city.
A half-page spreadsheet provided by Moore shows only 19 of the more than 400 incidents reported in June were classified as violent crimes, compared to June 2016, when 63 violent crimes were recorded — a 73 percent decrease.
Former Rocky Mount Police Chief John Manley, who retired in 2011, said he doesn't believe crime is down now in the city he served for 21 years.
“I'm concerned reports don't add up,” Manley said. “Something is fishy.”
During an hourlong recorded interview Thursday, Moore first said the numbers couldn't be skewed due to three levels of quality control in the department, including a reports supervisor and crime analyst who have worked for the police department for decades. He then questioned the way Manly reported crimes in 2006.
“I never worked for Chief Manley and Chief Manley never worked for me. Ask the employees back in 2006 during his tenure, when Rocky Mount had the highest crime in its history. When everybody else in the country peaked in 1998 or 1999, somehow we peaked in 2006. How did that happen? How did, the next year, under pressure from some wealthy people in the community, he get the 10 percent reductions that were mandated by the employees? The same people who were in then are the same people as are in place now,” Moore said, referring to the quality control team.
Manly, who now is chief of campus police at Elizabeth City State University, flat out denied Moore's claim.
“I can tell you this, when I was chief, we reported crimes the way they were,” Manley said.
During the interview, Moore backtracked somewhat and told the Telegram the statistics released to the public were preliminary and could change.
“Even though agencies voluntarily report crime offenses to the FBI, it is not an exact science,” Moore said.
The FBI provides law enforcement agencies with a handbook explaining how to classify offenses. Each year, many law enforcement agencies — including Rocky Mount — voluntarily report to the FBI all Part 1 crimes, which are defined as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft and arson.
“There are significant offense reporting variables from state to state and between the law enforcement agencies within a state,” Moore said.
One example of these variables is evident in the way Rocky Mount police report instances of shooting into an occupied dwelling — an offense classified by most law enforcement agencies as a violent Part 1 crime. The public is denied access to police narratives, but in June there were six reports of use of a handgun in cases dubbed property damage.
Moore explained his department doesn't report an incident as shooting into an occupied dwelling unless someone is in the room in which bullets are fired. He said if a shot was fired into a bedroom and people were in the living room, that would not be shooting into an occupied dwelling, but would be property damage instead.
However, N.C. General Statute 14.34 describes shooting into an occupied property as discharging a firearm into any structure while it’s occupied. The N.C. Appeals Court ruled recently that a house is occupied even if someone is standing on the porch.
A survey of local law enforcement leaders, some of whom used to work for Moore, said they would never classify shooting into an occupied dwelling as property damage.
Other reports are also downplayed in Rocky Mount to support the appearance that crime is down in the city, according to a city police officer who asked not to be identified.
The source gave an example of a situation in which officers found a footprint on a door that had been knocked down at an occupied home. “But instead of being reported as a burglary, the incident is recorded as property damage, which doesn't have to be reported to the FBI unless an arrest is made,” the source said.
The FBI defines burglary as “the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft. Attempted forcible entry is included.”
Reports are often updated to reflect progress during an investigation, although that could take time, said Rocky Mount police Capt. Marty Clay. Meanwhile, those crimes remain listed as initially reported. Police said the initial incident reports were used in compiling his crime statistics.
For example, on June 6, police responded to a report of a damaged vehicle. Days later, a second victim reported they were missing $1,450 in tools and fishing equipment taken at the same time from another damaged vehicle. Clay said the case has been upgraded from a damage to property crime to theft from an automobile. However, the report — which was used when calculating the numbers provided by the chief — still classified it as damage to property-auto.
June reports that have been reclassified since Moore's press release have all been downgraded to lower classifications, according to a more recent report provided Aug. 3 after a public records request. Burglaries changed from 41 to 39 and larcenies changed from 131 to 129, which made the city's Part 1 crimes drop another percentage point, down now 21 percent.
An overwhelming majority of the people interviewed for this article said the problem is not with the rank and file officers. The problem, they say, is Moore’s crime reporting philosophy. However, Moore argues that the blame should not be laid at his door.
“We are dedicated to improving the lives of the citizens of Rocky Mount,” Moore said. “We put tremendous pressure on our commanders, and they want to succeed. Our managers are very intelligent, they are compassionate and they are competitive. I am not saying, just like Jack Welch when he was at GE, he even admitted when you have highly intelligent and qualified managers, they will try to redefine the market on you. I am not saying they may not be trying to do that. But I have extreme integrity and I depend on those two people (Bill Mathews, crime analyst, and Cynthia Johnson, reports supervisor) to ensure quality control.”
Moore cited Wells Fargo in his explanation of “redefining the market.” During the recent Wells Fargo scandal, employees committed fraud to meet unrealistic expectations of their superiors.
“What I am talking about in redefining the market is the commanders,” Moore said. “Commanders are under pressure. Commanders are under pressure everywhere in the country. This is in every business. Name a business where employees don't try to do that. But that is why you have quality control.”