LAPD’s big data covered up big mistakes

LAPD’s big data covered up big mistakes

LAPD logoAt the leading edge of the “big data” trend, the Los Angeles Police Department has found itself in hot water. From underreported murders to misclassified assaults, a fresh spate of scandals has started to brew, just as Police Chief Charlie Beck was reappointed to a second term Tuesday.

Los Angeles’ police department isn’t alone in leaning hard on the use of data. Over the past several years, law enforcement officers around the country have turned to numbers-crunching to help solve — and even prevent — crime. From Washington on down to the municipal level, the trend has been clear.

The idea is simple: Collecting large amounts of information can aid the Department of Homeland Security and a small-town police department alike. Powerful conclusions can be drawn from data compiled from crime reports, emergency calls and the like.

But as L.A.’s experience shows, there are perils. First, human error can slip by undetected, causing cities and citizens to put misplaced confidence in numbers and trends.

Second, more deliberate “mistakes” can be made, fostering a kind of false confidence with potentially damaging consequences.

Third, cities and police forces themselves can fall into patterns of misconduct that good-looking data is used tacitly to justify.

All three of these problems have worked their way into the LAPD’s use of big data.

Misclassified crimes

In a bombshell story, The Los Angeles Times revealed the results of an exhaustive report into misuse of data on the force. From Sept. 2012 to Sept. 2013, L.A. cops “misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes” that included “stabbings, beatings and robberies.”

In fact, almost “all the misclassified crimes were actually aggravated assaults” that wound up “recorded as minor offenses.” The result? The crimes “did not appear in the LAPD’s published statistics on serious crime,” which “officials and the public use to judge the department’s performance.”

In interviews, current and retired police officers gave the Times two different explanations for the systematic discrepancies. Some said they were merely “inadvertent.” For others, however, “the problem stemmed from relentless, top-down pressure to meet crime reduction goals.”

As the Times explained, top cops “set statistical goals” for crime reduction at the beginning of every year. That overarching plan leads to the creation of smaller, but just as data-driven, objectives. “As part of that process, the department’s 21 divisions are given numerical targets for serious crimes each month.”

Instead of taking the emotion and uncertainty out of reducing crime, however, at least one source suggested the opposite began to happen. Since the numbers became paramount, opportunities arose to use terminology to change what it was the numbers indicated. Crime could appear to decrease, not by pushing the numbers down, but by altering the classifications that made sense of the numbers.

Official reaction

Initially, the LAPD balked at the Times’ report. Officers had already been pulled into a controversy by the Daily News, which recently questioned city murder statistics. The Daily News wanted to know why the LAPD had reported such low rates of crime-solving. (Chief Beck had gone on record saying cops had solved substantially more murders than reported to federal and state authorities.)

After first promising to “open up the books,” Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese backtracked, claiming the LAPD’s inspector general, Alex Bustamante, would dig into the matter and publicly present his findings to the Police Commission.

Bustamante confirmed he would be reviewing that matter. But he also announced he would lead an investigation into several years of statistics to shed light on the misclassifications of crime that Times report had uncovered.

That includes a full investigation into COMPSTAT, the centerpiece of the LAPD’s big data program. Bustamante told the Daily News that he’d far exceed the scope and detail of the Times investigation, in a “much more expansive” look at “thousands and thousands” of cases.

In the event that wrongdoing is found, the LAPD has indicated those responsible will be disciplined. A larger question remains, however. If big data-driven policing is here to stay, what steps must be taken by officials to restore the trust of Angelenos and their elected representatives?

11 comments

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  1. Bob Smith
    Bob Smith 13 August, 2014, 16:04

    It is almost certain that the push to misclassify crimes has as a primary purpose the hiding of crimes by the “wrong” kind of criminal i.e. not white or female.

    Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 13 August, 2014, 17:09

    A two person car patrol cop told us it is not uncommon to see all kinds of mayhem on a shift. Almost all is overlooked as it takes too much time to process people taking away from normal patrol work.

    Just the messenger….could care less about effectiveness of policing high risk areas…..would you actively look for statistics where civilization may not exist.

    Reply this comment
    • Donkey
      Donkey 14 August, 2014, 12:53

      Queegy, we know the RAGWUS feeders of LE don’t do their jobs correctly or morally, but thanks for the RAGWUS inside view. 🙂

      Reply this comment
  3. Dork
    Dork 14 August, 2014, 06:33

    Willfully and Knowingly Falsifying Official Government Records for Profit or Gain is and always has been Black Letter FRAUD. They all belong in PRISON.

    Reply this comment
  4. Donkey
    Donkey 14 August, 2014, 13:10

    Every public entity is Robert Rizzo in drag, showing leg, lying to all, giving nothing in return. Yes, all things RAGWUS are never as they seem. 🙂

    Reply this comment
    • T Mind of Ted Your God
      T Mind of Ted Your God 16 August, 2014, 16:16

      LOL
      Interesting that the little Duncey injects “drag queens” into the convo…..lmao

      vintage Duncey projection!

      Reply this comment
      • Donkey
        Donkey 16 August, 2014, 18:39

        TCS, it’s funny how your LE cabal is being called out on the national stage for the jack-booted Nazis they are in Ferguson!! I like the picture of the costumed clown with the sniper rifle pointed at unarmed civilians. 🙂

        Reply this comment
  5. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 17 August, 2014, 10:57

    These are GED educated cops, what did you expect?

    Reply this comment
  6. Hondo
    Hondo 17 August, 2014, 18:28

    When I was a Guardian Angel I made an armed robbery arrest. I made the arrest within 5 minutes of the crime. The victims never lost sight of the perp. They came up to my patrol and pointed to the man who had just robbed him ( the other one got away). I made the arrest and the police showed up. They arrested the man for armed robbery. It was a nearly perfect arrest. The district attorney lowered the charges to ‘threats’. The city had an image to keep up. They wanted more convention business. They massaged the stats. This happens every day in every big Democratic run city in Amerika.
    The biggest reason the murder rates have fallen has nothing to do with the politicions or the cops or the economy. It’s the unbelievable advances in emergency care. The paramedics just ‘flop um and fly’ to the emergency rooms where they can save about anyone now.
    Hondo…..

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LAPDJames PoulosCharlie BeckCompstatbig data

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