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Philadelphia Crime Statistics Under Attack by Chief, Reno

By Debbie Goldberg
The Washington Post

When John F. Timoney took over the Philadelphia police department last March, he preached the importance of timely, accurate crime data as an effective tool for fighting crime and managing the force.

Since then, Timoney has withdrawn and recalculated Philadelphia's 1997 crime data submitted to the FBI and withheld figures for the first half of 1998 because of what he described as widespread inaccuracies and discrepancies.

Now, the new chief imported from New York is trying to eliminate what police and politicians here say is a long-standing practice of downgrading major crimes to less serious categories that are not included in the federal crime statistics.

Recent audits of police records for 1997 and 1998 have uncovered thousands of major crimes either downgraded to less serious categories or dropped from the logs.

The result has been a rosier picture of Philadelphia crime rates than reality dictates, at a time when many cities are under strong public pressure to make the streets safer.

Misreporting crime data is an issue raised in several cities in recent years. Attorney General Janet Reno said two weeks ago that her office will review crime data submitted to the FBI by Philadelphia and Boca Raton, Fla., said Justice Department spokesman Gregory King.

"It's been an accepted practice over a long period of time," said a 25-year Philadelphia police veteran who spoke on condition of anonymity."

There's pressure to keep crime statistics down, and captains are held responsible for what goes on in their districts."

A typical example is a stolen license plate - a crime that should be reported to the FBI - logged as missing property because, he said, "it could have fallen off the car." Or when someone stabbed by a family member or friend does not prosecute, the crime may be downgraded from aggravated assault to a hospital case, which also is excluded from federal crime statistics, he said.