Feds: Phoenix PD used overstated kidnapping statistics

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.

READ THE FULL OIG REPORT

"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:

  1. Hold the victim for ransom, as a shield or hostage; or
  2. Hold the victim for involuntary servitude; or
  3. Inflict death, physical injury or a sexual offense on the victim, or to otherwise aid in the commission of a felony; or
  4. Place the victim or a third person in reasonable apprehension of a imminent physical injury to the victim or the third person; or
  5. Interfere with the performance of governmental or political function; or
  6. 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

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.

READ THE FULL OIG REPORT

"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:

  1. Hold the victim for ransom, as a shield or hostage; or
  2. Hold the victim for involuntary servitude; or
  3. Inflict death, physical injury or a sexual offense on the victim, or to otherwise aid in the commission of a felony; or
  4. Place the victim or a third person in reasonable apprehension of a imminent physical injury to the victim or the third person; or
  5. Interfere with the performance of governmental or political function; or
  6. 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

Acting Phoenix Police Chief Joseph Yahner issued the following statement:

Statement on Office of Inspector General Final Report

The Phoenix Police Department has received the final report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concerning the allegations that statistics for 2008 provided to obtain federal grant funding were intentionally inflated in order to obtain the grants.  The department has been forthright and transparent with the OIG throughout this review.  I am pleased the OIG review concluded that the Phoenix Police Department supported its statements made in the grant applications.

Ms. Maureen A. Henneberg, the Director of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Audit, Assessment, and Management stated in her memorandum, which is included in the report, "Additionally, we are pleased to learn that the PPD (Phoenix Police Department) was eventually able to support the statements made in its initial report."

In addition to the OIG review, the Phoenix City Manager's Office empanelled a group of notable experts in Arizona Law and the Criminal Justice field to conduct an independent review of the facts.  This panel reached the same conclusion that the OIG reached and stated, "There is no credible evidence to indicate that the 2008 kidnapping numbers were intentionally inflated."  This same conclusion was reached by the City of Phoenix Auditor and the Police Professional Standards Bureau, which conducted audits and reviews of this data as well.

Ms. Henneberg further stated in her memorandum in the OIG report, "…neither application was funded exclusively or even substantially because of the specific problem statements by the PPD, or the volume of reported offenses, per se.  Specifically, the funding solicitation, to which the PPD applied, was seeking applications for projects that would address a serious or violent crime problem through a data-driven approach.  Thus, the volume of offenses was not seen as the primary factor in the award of the grants…"

I am pleased with the progress we have made in correcting the coding and classification errors in case management following the recommendations from the City Manager's Review Panel, which concluded in May, 2011. A Quality Assurance Team was formed and we are training the case management system users in their responsibilities.  This training also includes supervisors responsible for reviewing the work of their employees as well. 

In addition, the City of Phoenix has committed $15 million dollars to replace the PACE records management system, which will allow more accurate crime statistical reporting, such as capturing the actual number of crimes involved in a single incident.  All of these efforts address not only the OIG report, but the earlier recommendations of the City Manager's Review Panel.  Collectively, they will continue to help us improve the quality of our reporting process as we move forward. 

Joseph G. Yahner
Acting Police Chief
Phoenix Police Department



Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos issued the below statement:

Last year when we learned that the Police Department kidnapping statistics may be inaccurate, we formed a panel of independent experts to carefully review the information and make recommendations on how the Police Department could improve its operations.

One of the panel's most important recommendations to improve accuracy was to replace the Police Department's outdated computer system.  The City Council approved $15 million to replace the system with technology that will provide more accurate and comprehensive reporting.

We have read the report released today from the Office of the Inspector General.  Its conclusions are consistent with the findings from the city's independent panel:

The Police Department did not intentionally inflate kidnapping statistics.  However, the case management reporting system and other management systems need to be addressed and improved, and the department is doing so. 

The Police Department is focused on implementing the task force recommendations from last year.  We have asked Acting Chief Joe Yahner to review the OIG report and recommend other positive changes that can be implemented for the department.

-- David Cavazos, Phoenix City Manager
-- Ed Zuercher, Assistant City Manager

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