In 2011, the LAPD reported that 8,843 serious assaults had taken place in the city that year, down from 16,373 in 2005. A laudable achievement! If only any of it were true.

Over the period between 2005 and fall 2012, violent crime in the city was seven percent higher than the official record showed, and serious assaults 16 percent higher, the Los Angeles Times uncovered by comparing data from an earlier investigation to the department’s official reports. Mostly, this happened because cops were classifying high-level assaults as less serious crimes for record-keeping purposes. The Times gives an illustrative example:

The misclassified cases often involved attacks that resulted in serious injuries, such as a 2009 incident in which April L. Taylor stabbed her boyfriend in the stomach with a 6-inch kitchen knife during a domestic dispute, police and court records show.

Police arrested Taylor, who later was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. In the LAPD’s crime database, however, the attack was recorded as a “simple assault.” Because of this, the case — like other misclassified incidents — was left out of the department’s tally of violence in the city.

But the police weren’t lying about reducing violent crime. In 2005, there were 18,015 serious assaults, not 16,376; in 2011, there were 10,521 not 8,843. An accurate trend graph for that period looks pretty much exactly the one they reported, just a little higher up on the Y axis.

So why falsely report at all? Assistant police chief Michel Moore chalked it up to human error; anonymous police sources implied to the Times that higher-ups were placing undue pressure on them to given the appearance of crime reduction. Probably it’s a mixture of both. Whenever you put cops in charge of reporting their own statistics, you can probably expect those statistics to paint a picture that’s favorable to cops.

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