PHOENIX - Federal agents concluded that Phoenix police reported overstated kidnapping statistics and cited a “culture” within the department allowed it to happen, according to an audit released by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector.
The Office of Inspector General spent 15 months reviewing Phoenix’s 2008 kidnapping statistics.
Their report follows an ABC15 investigation that found widespread problems with the kidnapping statistics.
“We believe that PPD has significant problems with the coding and classification of cases and, consequently, with the accuracy of reports from its case management system,” the audit found.
In 2008, Phoenix police reported 358 kidnappings.
Department leaders said it was a border crime wave that would sweep across the country.
In testimony before congress, former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and former Public Safety Manager Jack Harris testified that there was a kidnapping for ransom in the city “every night.” Those figures led Phoenix to become known as the "Kidnapping Capital of the United States."
To fight the problem, they said they needed federal money.
Phoenix police were later given $2.4 million in two federal grants.
Last year, the ABC15 Investigators found at least 100 of Phoenix’s 358 reported kidnapping cases never should have been counted. We also discovered dozens of questionable cases.
The OIG audit matched our findings and said only 54 percent of those reports should have been counted.
After our investigation, city leaders launched their own review of the kidnapping numbers.
Phoenix police then claimed they found another 175 kidnappings they forgot to count.
Those additional cases were forwarded to the OIG.
However, after reviewing the original kidnapping reports and the 175 new reports, federal agents found only 48 percent of all of those reports should have been counted as kidnappings – a total of 254 out of 533.
The new reports led the OIG to conclude that Phoenix police did not keep a “consistent” policy while gathering kidnapping reports and did not follow their own reporting requirements.
In fact, the OIG found that Phoenix police counted as kidnappings hundreds of other crimes that contained “elements” of kidnapping, the report said.
Crimes that often include “elements” of kidnapping include armed robbery, rape, domestic violence cases, carjacking, and homicides.
According to Arizona Revised Statutes, a person commits kidnapping by knowingly restraining another person with the intent to:
- Hold the victim for ransom, as a shield or hostage; or
- Hold the victim for involuntary servitude; or
- Inflict death, physical injury or a sexual offense on the victim, or to otherwise aid in the commission of a felony; or
- Place the victim or a third person in reasonable apprehension of a imminent physical injury to the victim or the third person; or
- Interfere with the performance of governmental or political function; or
- Seize or exercise control over any airplane, train, bus, ship or other vehicle.
Federal agents wrote because of Arizona’s broad kidnapping statute, that the “elements method” is a concern because it “likely overstates” the number of kidnappings because the crimes should be counted as a different offenses.
“Based on PPD policy and procedures and generally accepted crime report criteria, many of these cases would not qualify as kidnappings under crime reporting guidelines,” according to the report.
The report continues, “We note that even with the subsequent search, the PPD did not provide us with more than 300 incidents that should be classified as kidnapping for crime reporting purposes when the counting criterion was the PPDs internal reporting requirements.”
The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the rank-and-file police union, has also openly questioned the Phoenix Police Department's kidnapping statistics, especially surrounding the number of kidnappings for ransom.
Through public record requests, the ABC15 Investigators reviewed thousands of police emails, statistics records and crime reports.
Several of those records and emails show that police leaders internally counted roughly 130 kidnappings for ransom in 2008.
Many of the other cases counted as kidnappings were other crimes like armed robbery or sexual assault "where the victims were kidnapped in the course of those crimes," according to an email written by a Phoenix lieutenant.
Those cases counted as kidnappings deviate from standard crime reporting practices and should not have been counted, according to the OIG audit.
Before the ABC15 Investigators exposed the inaccurate kidnapping numbers, police officials promised multiple times that the numbers had been fully audited.
They also declined an interview request after ABC15 sent police leaders several questionable reports for an explanation.
Four days after our report broke, Public Safety Manager Jack Harris was removed from his position as police chief and eventually retired.