City Paper is not for tourists
Is it OK not to mention a few murders? Homicide Watch DC says that the Metropolitan Police Department may have forgotten to disclose about 18 of them this year.
Homicide Watch D.C. has compiled a database of D.C.’s homicides this year using Metro Police Department and FBI press releases as well as press reports. The second page of the database pulls homicide data from OCTO, D.C.’s office of technology. We’ve spent the better part of a week reconciling the two different spreadsheets. As you’ll see, OCTO reports 131 homicides– the same number used by Metro Police in their most recent homicide count. In a search of public documents, however, we found 113 homicides and we have not been able to determine the status of the 18 homicides reported by OCTO that have not been reported by Metro Police or the press.
A quick count of the press releases on MPD’s website backed up Homicide Watch’s theory the numbers didn’t add up. Homicides usually earn an announcement by the department. Often, MPD will ask for the public’s help solving the case, so the idea of 18 slayings falling through the cracks is a big deal.
The obvious conclusion was that the discrepancy was the product of a typo: The homicide tally on the MPD crime stats website was meant to read 113. But, when contacted, MPD argued that wasn’t the case. “We wouldn’t make a mistake like that,” rebuffs Chief Cathy Lanier in an e-mail to City Desk. “It is 131.”
Likely, Lanier wants the number to be firm for two reasons. First, she doesn’t want to leave the impression that MPD would make a careless mistake about the number of D.C. homicides. Second, unless there’s a significant uptick in murders between now and Jan. 1, the city is set to have its lowest number of homicides in decades. That means bragging rights and good press. Questions about the accuracy of the stats could sabotage that outcome.
When last year’s low homicide rate was determined, Lanier said she couldn’t be more pleased with the department, boasting the department’s “intelligence-driven community policing.”A typo could give ammunition to critics like police union head Kris Baumann, who have long asserted that MPD fudges its crime numbers.
MPD spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump says the department has looked into the puzzle, and found the missing press releases. They were issued but didn’t end up on the website, she explains via e-mail. “Our website has been updated. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.” Crump did not immediately respond to questions about which homicides in particular fell into an information black hole.
Of course, the only good homicide rate is a no-homicide rate. Though 131 homicides is far better compared to the 479 murders the city recorded in 1991, when the crack epidemic fueled violence in the city.