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 categories including violent offenses such as robberies, aggravated assaults, and rapes.
On Sunday, December 1, 2019, the Albuquerque Journal published a front-page story that all the crime rate reductions Mayor Tim Keller reported in a 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 May 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.
APD CHANGES IN HOW IT HANDLES CRIME STATISTICS
On December 13, APD officials held a news conference to explain what went wrong and what they are doing to prevent it from happening again. APD announced changes in how it handles and reports crime statistics. The officials said that the Keller Administration had been unintentionally releasing incomplete data for the last two years
It was during the December 2 City Council meeting that Deputy Chief Armijo for the first time 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”. 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. When the glitch was discovered, the system was re-calibrated and the numbers were downloaded onto the new system
Prior to 2018, APD reported data using the Summary Reporting System, which included eight categories and counted only the most serious offense during an incident. Starting in January 2021, the FBI will no longer accept data in this format. The FBI is requiring crimes to be counted through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which uses far more specific categories and counts virtually all crimes within a single incident rather than just the most serious.
During the December 13 press conference, APD Deputy Chief of Staff Elizabeth Armijo said APD realized in the last few months that all the quarterly briefings done by Mayor Tim Keller had been comparing the previous year’s final numbers for each time period to the current year’s preliminary numbers. According to Armijo, the Keller Administration is evaluating how it will release data to make sure it’s as accurate and up to date as possible. She said they’re not sure yet how frequently it will be provided and explained it this way:
“Moving forward, the data that is released will be that finalized data where everything has been analyzed. … The margin of change will be much more minute.”
APD Deputy Chief J.J. Griego Deputy is in charge of the records division and explained that the new system collects more detailed information. He also revealed a huge backlog of cases that were not included during the counts and said:
“At one point, that backlog that I was talking about was up to 25,000 reports that had not been processed all the way through the system. … Due to the efforts … of the records division it’s below that now, at 6,700 reports.”
According to Greigo, there are 15 positions in the records unit but, at some point, it had been reduced to five employees but as of the beginning of December, there are 11 employees in records. The goal is to increase the records unit to 20 full time records keepers.
According to Deputy Chief Griego:
“The next time we release stats, what we’re going to do is make sure we validate those statistics before we release them to the public. … We want to release the most complete data as we can. We want to be transparent in that release of data, and what we’re striving for is to get congruence in those two factors and ensure that we are releasing data that may change but it should not change as dramatic as it changed in this particular release.”
MORE ON 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.
The Keller Administration is also asking the NM Legislature for $20 million to modernize “crime fighting” technology, including an updated record management system.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
A sure way for any Mayor 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.
It is doubtful that Mayor Keller intentionally wanted to mislead the public. No doubt Keller did not question the numbers because he was so anxious and had the desire to show reduced crime rates so he could take credit for progress in reducing crime when he runs for reelection in 2021. Keller went forward with the quarterly press conferences proclaiming he was interested in transparency. Mayor Tim Keller had the correct data at the end of September, but Keller did not hold one of his famous crime statistics press conference for the third quarter while APD provided the corrected statistics to the Albuquerque City Council without any fanfare. It’s called at the very worst being deceptive and at the very least being sneaky.
The “statistics reporting fiasco” is a lot more serious than what Mayor Keller wants 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.
Keller needs to take action to hold someone accountable for the major misstep, but it is likely he will not, given his penchant for positive public relations and adversity to any kind of confrontation or “bad press”.
Notwithstanding, Mayor Tim Keller’s reputation for honesty and integrity has taken a serious hit that will take time for him to recover from, if in fact he ever does.
The corrected statistics as reported by the Journal are:
Auto burglaries decreased 16%, not the 38% as previously announced by Mayor Keller
Auto theft decreased 22%, not the 39% 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 broken the all time record and is at 76 as of December 17.
Rape decreased 3%, not the 29% Keller reported
Robbery decreased 30%, not the 47% reported by Keller
Aggravated assault decreased 7.5%, not the 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% as announced by Keller
Auto theft decreased 14%, not the 31% reported by Keller
Robbery decreased 32% and Keller reported it decreasing by 36%