Revamped statistics could lift Philadelphia to No. 2 in crime

PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia police failed to report as many as 37,000 major crimes in 1998, or more than 100 a day, according to a city audit.

The additional crimes could push Philadelphia ahead of Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix to make it the second most dangerous of the nation's 10 largest cities, behind only Detroit. By the police department's count, Philadelphia was No. 5 in 1998.

The audit, released Wednesday by the City Controller's office, estimates there were up to 143,017 major crimes in 1998, compared with 106,017 crimes recorded by the police department.

It found robberies sometimes classified as more minor thefts, and thefts often wrongly listed as vandalism. In at least one case, an aggravated assault was filed in the police report as a contempt of court offense.

The FBI had already rejected an earlier version of the police department's 1998 statistics as unreliable. And the department later revised them.

But the city audit found the disrepancy to be far larger than previously reported. The audit is considered the most comprehensive review ever done of the city's crime statistics because it was completed with police cooperation.

Nevertheless, Police Commissioner John F. Timoney denounced the audit as ''virtually no help to the department,'' saying it judged a reporting system no longer in use and made erroneous statistical assumptions. He said he is confident that the numbers as revised by the department are correct.

The commissioner said the department had already made changes along the lines of several recommended in the audit, and he said he would consider implementing most of the others. Suggestions not in place included a central coding bureau and routine callbacks to victims to check police reports.

City Controller Jonathan Saidel said Timoney may have been overstating the police reforms. ''Many of our recommendations may have remained the same, even if we had evaluated a later period,'' he said.

The audit, launched in September 1998, relied on an FBI inspection of 1,053 of the 1.4 million calls made by citizens to 911. The FBI found that in 34 of the inspected calls - about 3 percent - major crimes were improperly downgraded to lesser offenses.

Applying that 3 percent error rate to the original 1.4 million calls, the auditors concluded that as many as 42,000 crimes were downgraded. Further statistical refinement led to a range of uncounted major crimes of 13,000 to 37,000.

Timoney said the undercount was really about 8,000, based on a separate statistical appraisal by a University of Pennsylvania professor.

The latest statistics would boost Philadelphia's crime rate to 98.7 major crimes per 1,000 residents, up from its original count of 73.2. Top-ranked Detroit had 117.9 crimes per 1,000 people.

For decades, Philadelphia's crime statistics put it as the safest among the nation's 10 largest cities, but the numbers came under suspicion. Crimes were found to have been underreported and deliberately misfiled.

Stabbings and beatings, for example, were sometimes misreported as ''hospital cases,'' burglaries were classified as ''lost property,'' and rapes became ''investigation of persons.''

Timoney took over the police force in March 1998 and ordered reviews of past statistics and shuffled department leadership.


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