Hyping the Crime Rate

Over at Think Progress, Aviva Shen takes a deep look at how police departments report the crime rate. As should be obvious, in the normal course of things, the incentives are all skewed toward underreporting crime so that the commissioner, department leaders, and city council can look like they’re doing a good job of reducing crime. But, sometimes, and maybe we’re experiencing one of those times right now, the incentives work the other way.

It’s less common for police to game statistics to exaggerate crime, as it’s usually not in their interests to make it seem like they’re not doing their jobs effectively. But over the past year, things have changed for police forces all over the country. Suddenly, the general public is asking questions about police departments’ respect for civil rights, whether or not a shooting was justified, why people of a certain race are being arrested more than another. People are starting to question if such tactics are truly necessary to fight crime.

And now, officers, police chiefs and union heads are lamenting to reporters that the recent scrutiny is getting in the way of their commitment to their jobs. “For that political purpose and presumably to remove some of that pressure, it may be useful for them to show that there’s been increases in crime,” [Clayton] Mosher [a professor at Washington State University who focuses on criminology and drug policy] said.

And, if that just happens to make Donald Trump seem like less of a bald-faced liar about the alleged crime wave sweeping the country, well that’s just serendipity.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.