Looking at you, Mayor Barrett. Maybe you need to have a chat with your friends on the Police and Fire Commission.
Milwaukee police record clerks have routinely changed computer codes by hand in a way that removes serious assaults from the city's violent crime rate, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.
This is done even when the department's computer system flags the incidents as cases where an aggravated assault classification is warranted because a dangerous weapon was used.
Instead of correcting the report to put the incident in the proper crime category, in hundreds of cases clerks or supervisors changed the weapon listing to generic codes that avoided triggering additional scrutiny by state and FBI crime analysts.
That allowed the incidents to be reported as simple assaults, a lesser classification that is not part of the city's violent crime rate, which Police Chief Edward Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett have touted as dropping for four consecutive years.
While Flynn has blamed computer issues for more than 500 cases of misreported aggravated assaults identified by a Journal Sentinel investigation in May, a review of the process shows any computer shortcomings are exacerbated by clerks who department officials now acknowledge handled cases incorrectly.
It is unclear how long the incorrect changing of weapon codes has gone on, how often cases flagged as errors are properly revised and how clerks were trained or instructed to handle them.
"It defies belief that this problem could be the result of 'computer error' or random mistakes by clerks," said Samuel Walker, criminology professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "Why are the errors so concentrated in one crime category and the mistakes all in the same direction?"
While people of all political stripes love to claim the MJS is biased against them, people on both sides should also agree that the MJS reporters do a lot of damn fine investigative work. Stuff like this is why journalism matters.