Cross-posted from NolaStat.org
Note: Most of the effort that was previously put into Citizen Crime Watch policy advocacy, is now being put into NolaStat, an open records, performance management reform being advocated for adoption by the next mayor. Stay up to date with developments by signing up for NolaStat.
The next New Orleans police chief should allow for independent audits of crime statistics. That was the recommendation delivered on behalf of NolaStat at the March 11th New Orleans Police Department Task Force forum hosted by Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu at the Superdome.
Accurate crime statistics aren't just vital to restore credibility to a police department suffering from conspiracy scandals and extremely low public confidence. More importantly, validating crime statistics is a way to ensure that victims are allowed to pursue justice for crimes committed against them.
One of the most deleterious ways to reduce crime statistics is to coerce victims not to file a police report. Another way is by downgrading the crime classification to a lesser offense. There have been a lot of rumors and news stories about how police departments "cook the books" to gain political favor. Over a hundred former brass recently admitted in a survey that they succumbed to the pressures created by the NYPD CompStat program to reduce crime classifications. Last year, the Times-Picayune printed a story by Laura Maggi detailing a disturbing trend at the NOPD of downgrading rapes to produce more favorable crime counts.
These stories don't invalidate the process of measuring crimes to improve public safety, however, they do underscore the need for independent oversight to verify claims made by police departments.
There's so much more at stake than the public opinion in getting the crime stats right. A colleague who is a criminal justice researcher recently conveyed the results of a highly-disturbing investigation into two rape incidents that occurred in 2008 -- the same time period in which the Times-Picayune story found that the NOPD was downgrading rapes. In the following paraphrased narrative, a "21-NAT" is a general call for service complaint handled and closed without filing a police report.
One inevitably finds dispatch signal 42's that are closed with a signal change of 21-NAT. Last year I ran down two such incidents in Mid City, only to learn that one white-female victim later contracted HIV, and the earlier female victim committed suicide within several months of the attack. The ladies were slight acquaintances after meeting during the rape-crisis counsellings group sessions. Imagine their chagrin on learning they resided in the same building and began comparing notes. Both were 21 NAT. In one case the record-room clerk was able to find the rape kit exam narrative but could not find any offense reports. The assaultive event, coupled with the highly-intrusive police investigation (and a tad bit coaching by a bunch of insensitive cops) continue to make these cases disappear with regularity. It goes without saying that pain and publicity are reporting disincentives. Neither was a date-rape - both were classic heavy aggression, stranger offenses.
Without independent oversight, such distortions of justice mean can have highly negative consequences. What's even more disturbing about the police not treating victims with the respect they deserve, and helping them to pursue justice, is the fact that in these instances, the perpetrator wasn't prosecuted, and therefore, was more than likely allowed to terrorize other victims.
We need a police chief who doesn't allow this to happen ever again. As stated before, the first duty of a police department is "to help and defend."
Denying victims their right to justice isn't just a violation of basic civil liberties. It's downright inhumane.