Since taking office on December 1, 2017, every quarter when APD has released the city’s crime statistics, Mayor Tim Keller has done a press conference to release the statistics. He did so on July 1, 2019 to report the statistics for the 2019 second quarter and to compare them to the 2018 midterm year numbers. Keller reported that crime was down significantly , with double-digit drops in many category including violent offenses such as robberies, aggravated assaults, and rapes.
On Sunday, December 1, 2019, two years to the date Keller assumed office, the Albuquerque Journal ran a front-page story that all the crime rate reductions Mayor Tim Keller reported in his July 1, 2019 press conference were in fact seriously flawed and false. According to the report, both the 2019 mid-year statistics and the statistics released at the end of 2018 were revised dramatically to include hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of more incidents than were initially reported.
The final numbers for all of 2018 showed violent crime actually increased, and in many categories the crime rates only dropped in single digits and not the double digits reported by Keller. At an October meeting of the City Council, APD provided the revised statistics but failed to report that the numbers had changed drastically. Mayor Keller also did not hold any kind of a press conference to correct nor announce the corrected statistics.
You can review the corrected statistics in the postscript after this article.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Alarmed by the December 1 Albuquerque Journal report that crime statistics were dramatically understated, the Albuquerque City Council during its December 2 meeting confronted the Keller Administration. The City Council asked Keller Administration Chief Administrative Office Sarita Nair and Deputy APD Chief of Staff Liz Armijo what caused the statistics fiasco, how many years had it been going on and what is being done to correct the problem. You can review the entire exchange and discussion here:
During the exchange with city councilors, Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair cited several major reasons for the false numbers. The reasons cited include:
1. Antiquated data collection systems, inefficient technology and the lack of an “across the board integrated data reporting system”.
2. Delayed reporting of crimes to APD by victims
3. A shift in how APD categorizes certain crimes
4. Human error in labor intensive manual record making and record keeping process
5. A shortage of 8 employees in the APD records division.
During the December 2 City Council meeting, Deputy Chief Armijo blamed the inaccurate statistics on different software programs that are antiquated and that are not fully integrated. At one point, Armijo told City Councilors that when APD converted its data system in 2018 from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system to the National Incident-Based Reporting System(NIBRS), APD’s crime statistic “numbers went into a black hole”. When the glitch was discovered, the system was re-calibrated and the numbers were downloaded on the new system. It was Deputy APD Chief of Staff Liz Armijo that presented second quarter crime data at the October 21 City Council meeting. However at the time, Armijo did not mention that APD had identified problems with the numbers it publicly released months earlier.
(NOTE: Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) is a computer-assisted dispatch of law enforcement for calls for service. National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBERS) is more sophisticated and is an incident-based reporting system used by law enforcement agencies for collecting and reporting data on crimes.)
CAO Nair reported to the city council:
“We don’t know that there’s a problem, but I don’t think we can confidently say there’s not a problem, so we have to go back. … By moving to quarterly [reporting of the statistics] we exposed all the flaws in the system. This has been a problem for a long time, but when you give stats on an annual basis you give yourself all that time to clean up and patch up and get to the right numbers. ”
According to Nair, the mistakes and issues were complicated by Mayor Tim Keller’ s desire to provide quarterly updates in the name of transparency instead of releasing only annual data, which increased the likelihood of errors. Nair told the city council the Keller Administration is going back and reviewing the accuracy of the statistics for the past two years.
Further, Nair said the city has worked to fill vacancies on the records staff. The Keller Administration is also asking the NM Legislature for $20 million to modernize “crime fighting” technology, including an updated record management system.
Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said he’s worried that the revelation that the decreases are far less significant will make it harder for the public to trust the Police Department’s briefings in the future:
“I don’t think this was done intentionally, but I think the public is going to have a credibility issue with the Police Department, and this administration and we need to work together as a team to prevent this from ever happening again.”
NEED TO KNOW WHAT IS WORKING
City Councilor Pat Davis told Nair that the city council needs the right data for budgetary reasons and to establish APD priorities and to know what programs are working. In the last 9 months alone, Mayor Tim Keller has announced 4 separate initiatives to combat violent crime and reduce crime rates. According to Davis:
“I think we felt like there was no real disclosure that APD was aware that as much as 20 or 30% of their data could’ve been under reported. … We’ve seen the number of strategies from the administration about how to deal with crime all based on the premise that what we’ve done so far is working. … [It] appears our changes in crime stats in particular areas are no better than the majority of cities the same size as us around the country. … You wonder how effective some of the special initiatives have been. … We put extra money into APD for special initiatives to solve specific problems, and maybe they haven’t been as successful as we thought they were, and maybe that money could’ve gone somewhere else that could’ve been.”
MODERNIZING APD’S RECORD KEEPING
On December 2, Mayor Keller held a press conference to reveal his legislative priorities for the upcoming 2020 New Mexico Legislative session that starts in mid-January. Keller said his top priority will again be public safety and made a pitch for money from the legislature to update the city’s crime fighting technology. His requests include $10 million for his violence intervention programs and $20 million for modernizing crime fighting technology.
The breakdown of the $20 million ask by Mayor Keller to bring Albuquerque’s crime-fighting technology up to date includes:
$13 million for CAD / Records Management System;
$1.2 million for Video Management Software;
$2.5 million for Crime Scene Response, including a new crime scene bus;
$1.2 million to update the Laboratory Information Management System;
$250,000 in upgrades to the Evidence Warehouse;
$810,000 for Latent Fingerprint Section improvement;
$320,000 for Automated License Plate Readers;
$150,000 for Firearms & Toolmarks Technology;
$370,000 to upgrade DNA equipment; and
$100,000 for a ballistic water tank replacement.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
A sure way for any Mayor or a Police Department to lose credibility with the public is to repeatedly announce reductions in crime and then having to admit the statistics announced were dramatically from the truth. What is downright embarrassing is when the Mayor’s own Police Department is incapable of compiling the information reported to the FBI and then proclaims crime is down. There is a huge risk in trying to report crime statistics on a quarterly basis because of how rapidly they can change over 3 months. It is doubtful that Mayor Keller intentionally wanted to mislead the public.
No doubt Keller was anxious and had the desire to show reduced crime rates so he could take credit for progress in reducing crime and went forward with the quarterly press conferences proclaiming he was interested in transparency. CAO Nair acknowledged that “moving to quarterly [reporting of the statistics] we exposed all the flaws in the system” and they learned that is why prior administrations waited to the end of the full year when the numbers were finalized.
The “statistics reporting fiasco” is a lot more serious than what Mayor Keller and what CAO Sarita Nair want to let on or care to admit. The City relies heavily on Federal Law enforcement grants, often in the millions of dollars, to conduct operations, tactical plans such as DWI, and fund programs. Often, federal funding is based upon the statistics that the city provides to the FBI. It is more than just possible but highly likely the feds will withdraw funding or demand refunds of funding if the city is found to have submitted bogus crime statistics in applications for grant funding.
DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A BAILOUT
Mayor Keller and the City Council should not hold their breath expecting that the New Mexico Legislature will allocate $20 million to update the APD records keeping and data entry system. The New Mexico legislature will probably be asking why? The $20 million dollar request is being made 18 months after Keller signed into law a gross receipt sales tax increase enacted by the city council that raised gross receipts taxes by $60 million a year and breaking his promise not to raise taxes, even for public safety, without a public vote. It also comes after a mere 7 months after the City announced in April a onetime $34.4 million dollar windfall, called an “orphan month”, as a result of a change in accounting policy to align the city finances and accounting practices with state government financing and nearly all other governmental entities. It also comes two months after Keller submitted a $29 million dollar lodger’s tax and the City Council approved on October 7 a $30.5 million “Sports -Tourism” lodger tax package on a unanimous vote to upgrade and build sports facilities throughout the city.
At worst, what happened with the statistics was downright incompetence or at best, downright sneaky, especially when APD gives the accurate statistics to the City Council a full two months before the mistakes were made public and not bringing it to the attention of the council and the public.
Mayor Keller did say he plans to eventually hold another news conference acknowledging the discrepancies and providing new data. That is a sure bet as Keller announcing yet another new program to reduce violent crime after the next high profile murder spree.
On December 6, Mayor Tim Keller announced that his administration will hire a researcher to oversee an independent review of the Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) data systems. Peter Winograd, a retired professor with the University of New Mexico School of Law, will be retained on contract to review the data entry systems and the crime statistics. Winograd has previously conducted studies for the city on crime rates. Mayor Keller had this to say:
“We are bringing in a respected, independent researcher to manage a thorough review of the systems used for decades by APD to track crime. …. As we continue our efforts to reform areas throughout the department, it’s become clear we need to overhaul APD’s data systems, and Dr. Winograd’s outside expertise will help ensure that the department fixes these longstanding problems.”
Winograd will assist in analyzing data and redesigning APD’s use-of-force reporting and accountability processes to comply with a reform effort mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). According to Deputy Chief J.J. Griego, who oversees the Records Division, Winograd’s review will be broad and said: “He’s going to be looking at the whole process. … As far as a review of past years, I think that is probably in order to ensure that everybody knows we’re being transparent and that there are no issues in the past that may raise its head later.”
The corrected statistics as reported by the Journal are:
Auto burglaries decreased 16%, not the 38% as previously announced
Auto theft decreased 22%, not 39% as Keller reported
Commercial burglary decreased 3%, not the 27% Keller reported
Residential burglary decreased 16%, not 39% as Keller reported
Homicide decreased 2.5%, not 18%, but homicides have since increased substantially and the city has tied the all-time record of 71.
Rape decreased 3%, not the 29% Keller reported
Robbery decreased 30%, not 47% reported by Keller
Aggravated assault decreased 7.5%, not 33% reported by Keller
Aggravated assault increased 21%, rather than decreasing 8% as announced during Keller’s July news conference
Rape increased by 3%, rather than decreasing 3%
Auto theft decreased 14%, not the 31% reported by Keller
Homicides remained basically the same decreasing by a single murder
Robbery decreased 32% and Keller reported it decreasing by 36%