Coral Gables

FBI audit: Coral Gables crime statistics were accurately reported, though miscategorized

Coral Gables Interim Police Chief Ed Hudak.
Coral Gables Interim Police Chief Ed Hudak. MIAMI HERALD FILE

The Coral Gables police department’s report card is in.

According to the FBI, the police department did not fudge crime statistics between the first eight months of 2013 and 2014, an audit conducted by the Division of Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shows.

The investigation also found that the department had a “low error rate” when reporting crimes. The audit specifically targeted accusations of underreported burglary offenses between January and August of 2013 and 2014.

“The sampling of records chosen for review was targeted to offenses most likely to be inaccurately reported as larceny or vandalism rather than a burglary,” said Jennifer Pritt, the CJIS director, in an memo to Gables Interim Police Chief Ed Hudak.

The audit was done after a rising tide of residential burglaries upset the Gables community, leading to the resignation of the department’s police chief Dennis Weiner, along with the naming of an acting police chief and interim police chief. These events unfolded during a nine-hour city commission meeting in September, in which about 200 residents decried the city’s response to the rising number of burglaries, criticizing how the police department calculated its crime statistics.

Commissioners and residents accused the police department of fudging crime statistics after Weiner had provided numbers that indicated residential burglaries were at an all-time-low. So on Sept. 9, the city requested that the FBI and FDLE conduct a week-long audit of the police department’s crime statistics. On Sept. 22, five FBI auditors arrived at the police station to conduct administrative interviews. On Nov. 20, the city received the audit report and its findings were presented to the commission on Tuesday.

According to the audit report, the FBI collected 5,958 Part I crime reports, reviewed 3,508 of them and discovered 121 classification errors. From those errors, 38 offenses were overreported offenses, 4 were underreported and 79 were inaccurately reported offenses. Only 19 of the errors pertained to burglaries, the audit found.

“Within the 121 errors discovered, 19 were related to inaccuracies identified within a reported burglary incident. However, 17 offenses were reported as larcenies that should have been reported as burglaries, one reported burglary should have been reported as a larceny and one reported robbery should have been reported as a burglary,” Pritt said in the report.

According to the FBI, Part I crimes include serious crimes like homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

The FBI also looked at 629 part II offenses and no errors were discovered, according to the report. Part II crimes consist of lesser crimes such as simple assaults, forgery and fraud.

Ultimately, federal officials gave the Coral Gables police department “a weighted error rate” of 4.55 percent, “validating the professional standards of CGPD in this low error margin,” Pritt said.

The FBI would not say how that score was calculated.

“According to both the auditors and my conversations with them, those inaccuracies were mistakes, not intentional errors,” Hudak said. “This just proves that we were a lot more transparent than some people thought. We did make some mistakes about how we reported numbers based on different parameter. It all goes back to word: semantics. For example, most people whose houses are burglarized phrase it as robbery. So those numbers are going to change when we deploy our officers.

“They found that everything was accurately reported, although inaccurately categorized.”

Freddy Balsera, one of several high-profile residents whose home was burglarized in the summer, said the audit’s findings remain “irrelevant,” but that having the FBI get involved is a step “toward more transparency.”

“The findings only reveal that nearly 6,000 people have been victims of crimes over the last four years,” Balsera said. “That’s incredibly troubling. It validates the fear and insecurity that Coral Gables residents have. However, it also demonstrates the transparency with which Chief Hudak is now running the police department. We put faith in the numbers but in this case, the error rate is meaningless.”

Hudak agreed.

“Despite what various reports may generate, statistics don’t accurately tell the story of a victim’s experience. The Coral Gables Police Department will continue to proactively communicate these numbers in a manner to be deserving of the public’s trust,’’ Hudak said.

Crime had become a heated issue over the past year after a series of incidents, some of which involved violence, or the threat of it. This caught the attention of residents, who orchestrated email campaigns to city and police leaders, organized crime watch groups, and even ran robo-calls on the issue of crime in Coral Gables.

Eli B. Silverman, a criminologist and professor emeritus at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told the Herald that the FBI rarely audits police departments, and that when it does, the investigations are “too cursory to identify deep flaws.”

“I would need to see more, the first eight months of a given year is not enough to come up with a thorough conclusion,” he said. “How exactly did they come up with their findings during a week-long audit?”

According to a memo to city officials, Hudak said the department has already made changes to how the records are managed.

▪ Only one data management analyst, Jessica Witherspoon, will be handling statistics, a move Hudak said will “ greatly improve the uniformity in the researching, management and tracking of the data provided by the Department.”

▪ The department will only rely on “software generated reports that will utilize consistent data parameters to provide consistent raw data results.”

▪ The department is also “requesting the reclassification of Records Section positions to offer a more competitive salary structure and improve much needed employee retention in order to foster consistency in data generation, review, management and communication.”

“We’re using it as a report card, to trend in the direction in which we want to go in, which is always down,” Hudak said, regarding crime.

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