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Spotlight on Denver Police Department's inaccurate crime data

The Denver Police Department is no different from peer organizations across the country in wanting to be as accurate as possible regarding crime reporting and classification. As a recent Denver Post article duly notes, "Inaccurate or false crime data can damage a department's credibility."

That being the case, the DPD's credibility is likely compromised at least to some degree by a report from last week that the department is now dealing with hundreds of misclassified crime reports filed in prior years.

The mistakes might not have been uncovered at all had police analysts not noted a puzzling disconnect in data they were researching. Their work ultimately led DPD Chief Robert White to order an audit.

What that revealed was this: nearly 700 incidents where cases were inappropriately labeled as "letter to detective" rather than as official crime reports. The former designation is akin to an incident report that stops short of its being tagged as a crime.

Some officials within the DPD might understandably stress that mistakes leading to an underreporting of crime are less injurious to personal liberty and fundamental fairness for criminal suspects than are errors that overreport unlawful conduct.

That is not the bottom-line point being emphasized by some story commentators, though. They note that uncertainty and some discomfort attach to the misclassifications, given that there is no mention of what crimes (e.g., drug charges, sex offenses. DUI and so forth) were involved.

Moreover, they state that the errors raise material questions concerning whether all misclassified offenses were discovered and why other reports not deemed in error should now simply be taken at face value.

One criminal law professor states that "it's not unusual for departments to fudge their crime statistics a little bit." Another notes that the DPD must now deal with a perception held by at least some members of the public that other police reports might also be suspect.

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