Commissioner: Miami Crime Picture Blurred?

MIAMI (CBS4) – Miami City Commission Chairman Willy Gort has raised concerns that the police department may be inaccurately reporting crimes and that the city could be left with a distorted view of its crime picture.

In a May 9th letter to Police Chief Miguel Exposito, Gort wrote that he was concerned “old habits of under-reporting crimes might be creeping back in.”

The “old habits” reference involves a 2007 investigation of the police department amid allegations that the administration of former chief John Timoney had “cooked the crime books” to make the city appear safer than it actually was.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the police officers’ union, produced thousands of incident reports that suggested serious crimes had been downgraded, or in many cases, not reported at all.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted a nearly two year-long investigation which concluded there was no deliberate, systemic effort to distort the crime numbers, but there were serious issues uncovered. The FDLE found that some commanders felt they were under great pressure to minimize the crime picture. The probe concluded that 27 percent of cases that were written up as “information only” reports were incorrectly classified. As a result, the FDLE said, criminal cases that should have been followed up on were not.

Commission Chairman Gort raised new questions about the department’s crime reporting after receiving nine incident reports from the “news media,” that were written up as “information only” reports, when it appeared that a crime may have been committed. One report referred to “death threats” that had been made. Another said a woman was allegedly “going to kill her son.” Another described a vehicle that “had been stolen.” One report involved a domestic incident where a man was taken to the hospital and “a handgun” was confiscated.

“I’m not an expert on police work, and I’m not going to tell the police chief how to do his job,” Gort told CBS4’s Gary Nelson Wednesday, “but statistics have to be correct and proper procedures should be followed.”

Gort said the police department and community can’t know how to respond to crime, if there isn’t a clear understanding of what crime is occurring and where.

Cmdr. Delrish Moss, a spokesperson for Chief Exposito, said the department is carefully examining the concerns raised by the commission chairman.

“No system is going to be perfect,” Moss said. “When you look at a number of reports, you may find a mistake here or a mistake there. Those reports were brought to us and we’re looking at them.”

Moss stressed that major changes in procedure and additional safeguards have been implemented since the results of the FDLE investigation were released in 2009. Commanders, for instance, no longer have the authority to change a report after it is filed. In the FDLE probe, some officers and communications room personnel told investigators that commanders would often change “signals” – the nature of an incident – after it was logged in.

Moss said the department does not believe the recent case reports submitted by Gort represent evidence “that there’s a systemic problem.”

“We’re looking at them to make sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, and if there are problems we will go in and we will fix them,” Moss said.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado praised Gort for raising the crime statistics issue and pressing for answers.

“This is disturbing,” said Regaldo. “This is about public relations versus the safety of the people of Miami, and the need of the people to know if crime has increased.”

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