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Statistics no way to 'rate' city's police departments

KBI’s annual crime reports leave out key categories, population may skew data

Staff writer

Sexual battery and many other intimidation crimes are not listed in Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s annual crime index — an omission that law enforcement in Marion County say makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of crime in their towns.

“There are certain things I wish were in there that aren’t,” said Hillsboro police chief Dan Kinning. “I wish things like simple battery and that showed up, especially if they’re domestic violence.”

KBI issues a separate report for sexual battery and other crimes not listed in its annual index — but the report only includes statistics for the entire state, not for its communities.

KBI tracks the number of arrests by local police departments for those same crimes, but not the number of cases reported. Those statistics may be available, but finding and compiling them from reports and other sources is difficult without knowing where to look, Kinning said.

“If you’re not part of law enforcement, it’s hard to understand,” he said.

In addition to not having statistics for all categories of crime available in one place, the index doesn’t always note when cases have been cleared. If a suspect is wanted for a violent crime, but is later arrested for drunk driving, then the index won’t register the

violent crime as being cleared, KBI employee Bill Reid said.

Marion police chief Clinton Jeffrey said local law enforcement might have cleared such a case, but KBI reports often won’t reflect this, which is frustrating.

“If we don’t get the report, it’s difficult to get it cleared,” he said. “They’ll do an arrest report, and there’s a box on there for outside agencies, but I don’t think some of those get cleared.”

Reid said improving the accuracy of the reporting system has been a goal of the KBI for a long time.

“I’ve been here 15 years and we’ve been talking about it the whole time, but we are closer,” he said. “We’re talking with our IT department now and are in the planning process.”

Only part of the picture

A recent study by researchers at Dartmouth University and Princeton College which ranked Peabody’s Police Department 58th nationally out of 2,500 local law enforcement agencies for clearing cases points out the inconsistencies in the state’s crime statistics.

Peabody’s Police Department cleared all its cases of violent crime from 2013 to 2017 – but just four cases filed with the department qualified as violent crimes.

However, according to KBI’s arrest records, there were also six arrests for simple battery and one for intimidation during 2017 — the largest category of crime reported for the town.

Five arrests for battery and two for intimidation also were reported during the time frame of the Dartmouth and Princeton study.

Peabody resident Linda Martinez says overlooking certain categories of crime gives a flawed picture of the safety of a city — particularly for crimes like battery and domestic violence.

“That limits it a lot,” she said. “Those are all crimes, but they’re ones that often aren’t talked about.”

People with ties to victims of sex crimes often keep a close eye on possible problems, so limiting their ability to be aware of violent crime is problematic, Martinez said.

“The people who have been affected sexual crime, whether an adult or a child, whether you’re directly related or a family member… you check out the community,” she said. “You just do, and more so now because the parameters of what’s available are more easily accessible.”

More than numbers

Marion’s Police Department had nine qualifying violent crimes reported to it from 2013 to 2017, at least six arrests for simple battery, one arrest for intimidation, and 31 arrests total.

In neighboring Hillsboro, the police department had 14 violent crimes reported from 2013 to 2017, including two cases of sexual assault. There were also 29 simple battery arrests and four arrests for intimidation.

Jeffrey said statistics, particularly for battery, aren’t necessarily an accurate gauge of potential violent crime in a town because there are varying levels of severity.

“A battery could be poking somebody,” he said. “As long as you make physical contact in a rude, angry, or insulting manner, that’s battery. Battery can stem from touching someone to punching them.”

Jeffrey submits annual reports of crime rates in Marion to the KBI, but prefers to have the department keep its own records because they can break up crime into categories as needed.

“It’s easier to keep track of,” he said. “I can break it down indefinitely. You could break it down by address if you wanted to, but we’re not a big enough city.”

The population differences between cities can also skew crime statistics, said Reid.

Marion County’s Sheriff Department recorded that it cleared 23 violent crimes from 2013 to 2017, but that statistic reflects the largest population reported by all of the county’s departments.

The department also had 42 simple battery arrests and two arrests for intimidation during that time frame.

The stipulations of KBI’s system, coupled with population differences in the state’s cities, are why the department shies away from comparing “success rates” of reporting law enforcement agencies, Reid said.

“That’s why we’re so adamant about not ranking them,” he said. “You have to look at the population.”

Last modified Oct. 17, 2019

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