PHOENIX - Phoenix is often called the "kidnapping capital" of the United States, but what if all the numbers didn't add up?
In 2008, the Phoenix Police Department reported 358 kidnappings - one almost every day.
For the past two months, the ABC15 Investigators have reviewed the department's 2008 kidnapping statistics, reading hundreds of reports and thousands of pages. We also researched court records and obtained internal memos, e-mails and recordings.
Our investigation found Phoenix Police routinely inflated their kidnapping statistics throughout the year, including at least 100 cases that legal experts said should not have been counted, plus dozens of other questionable reports.
Phoenix Police turned down repeated interview requests from us to talk specifically about the reports. We also reached out to the City Manager's Office and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. But both declined.
It all starts with this list .
Provided by Phoenix Police, it's every report that the department counted as a kidnapping in 2008. Add them up, and there are a total of 358.
It's a number police and city leaders have claimed a lot: to the
public, media and even the federal government.
Read more: Phoenix in trouble with US Justice Dept?
But included on that list are cases where officers concluded no kidnapping occurred, reports that were counted multiple times, and even reports for kidnappings that happened in other cities and other states.
Still, all of those cases were counted as a kidnapping.
Here's a list of more than 20 of the most questionable kidnapping reports . Every one of these was counted as a kidnapping in 2008. And you can check them yourself. Just look at the report number and date at the top of the page and then find it on the list above.
When first questioned about the reports by ABC15 late last year, Phoenix Police said that they fully stand by their numbers. To address the concerns, Public Safety Manager Jack Harris also wrote a memo to other city officials.
In that memo , he said that accusations about inflating statistics were "untrue," and that the reports had been reviewed before.
We asked two former prosecutors to review the merits of dozens of the cases: Attorneys David Cantor and Kurt Altman.
Cantor is a former City of Phoenix prosecutor and is now a
defense attorney. Altman worked for the Maricopa County Attorney's
Office for 7 years and also the U.S. Attorney's Office.
They said many of the cases weren't "even close" to being kidnappings and should "never" have been counted.
"I would feel comfortable arguing to a jury that there was an
attempt to pad some stats in this case," Altman said.
Out of all of the reports, there were nearly 60 written for "information only." That means police couldn't determine if a crime actually occurred.
Counted on the list, there were also at least 40 reports that were attempted kidnappings or possible kidnappings.
One of these cases happened near 7th Avenue and Camelback. Read the report .
According to the report, a woman was walking in a parking lot when a car pulled up next to her and the driver told her to "get in." She ran and the car sped off. There was no abduction or physical contact. But it was counted as a kidnapping.
"To call that a kidnapping is wrong," Cantor said.
Another report described a woman claiming she was abducted from a Wal-Mart parking lot and then driven around for hours. But when officers checked surveillance video, they watched her get into her car and drive away -- alone. Read the report .
"This was a story she made up," Altman said.
The city also reported the same case three times. There are three reports for one incident. One of the reports describes the crime. But the others were created to document vehicle impounds.
In fact, ABC15 found several reports with no purpose other than to document a vehicle impound. See the examples .
Phoenix Police also included a report that was a Glendale case. The case was a legitimate kidnapping, except it happened in Glendale and was investigated by Glendale Police. The only tie to Phoenix was that a Phoenix officer responded to help a Glendale detective translate for a suspect.
Check out the Glendale report and the Phoenix report .
We also found a Phoenix report that counted a kidnapping case out of Houston, TX. In that case , investigators discovered it wasn’t even an actual kidnapping.
"It seems whoever put these together," Altman said, "if they even reviewed these reports, did everything they could, threw in the kitchen sink as they say."
"These are absolutely wrong," Cantor said. "As a criminal law specialist, these aren't even close. They are 100 percent wrong."
Read more: Phoenix in trouble with US Justice Dept? The Phoenix Police Department is the target of an ongoing federal probe to determine if they reported inflated kidnapping statistics in order to obtain millions in grant funds, ABC15 has confirmed.