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Are Buckeye's low violent crime stats too good to be true?

Posted: 10:40 PM, May 10, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-12 04:13:04Z

For the past couple of years, the City of Buckeye has touted itself as the safest in the Valley.

But the ABC15 Investigators have discovered the city’s rock-bottom violent crime rate may be based on dubious exemptions and by under-classifying crimes that experts said should be counted.

The station also found there have been dozens of people arrested and charged with violent crimes in Buckeye that are not included in the city’s statistics. 

“What worries me about this is the victims might not be served, particularly with domestic violence,” said Dr. John Eterno, a retired New York City police captain and criminologist at Malloy College. 

See cases not counted as violent crimes by Buckeye at the end of the story.

Police Chief Larry Hall declined ABC15’s repeated requests for an interview. However, in emails, he defended his department’s statistics.   

Buckeye has a population near 70,000, but reported just 30 violent crimes in 2017 as part of the annual gathering of statistics by the FBI, according to city officials. 

Click on each category of crime statistics for the city of Buckeye in the charts below. 

 

 

In Mayor Jackie Meck’s State of the City address last month, he said Buckeye’s violent crime rate ranks as the lowest in the Phoenix-metro area.

RELATED:  See which Phoenix Metro cities have lowest crime rates

Click on each city in the map to see detailed crime data from 2016. 

But the city’s statistics raise significant questions, especially the reported numbers for aggravated assault (eight) and sex assault (three), according to Eterno and fellow criminologist Dr. Eli Silverman, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Together, Eterno and Silverman have written a book about the manipulation of crime statistics and agreed to review information and statistics obtained from Buckeye police.

“Eight (aggravated assaults) seems, well, I mean it seems ridiculous,” Eterno said. “I would assume the cops themselves would debate these figures.”

The numbers caused Silverman to ask, “What kind of safeguards do the police department have to oversee and ensure these (statistics) are right?”   

Inside Buckeye police, sources tell ABC15 that there’s been an effort to spin crime statistics by the administration. In September, police insiders sent the city manager an anonymous letter that alleged  widespread corruption inside the department , including the routine falsification of statistics by changing the reported nature of crimes.

The city has hired an outside investigator to probe the letter’s allegations. The investigation is still ongoing, officials said. 

Every year, police departments across the country submit their statistics to the FBI to be included in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, or UCR. According to UCR, the violent crime rate is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault. 

Aggravated assaults are by far the most common violent crime reported by law enforcement agencies. Usually, aggravated assaults involve victims who are seriously injured or when weapons are used. Cities the size of Buckeye typically report anywhere from several dozen to hundreds of them a year, statistics show.

Experts said that’s why under-classifying aggravated assaults is one of the most popular ways to manipulate and lower UCR violent crime statistics. 

ABC15 sent a list of those cases to Chief Hall to ask why they weren’t included.

In an email, Hall said Arizona’s aggravated assault laws “many times don’t fit the UCR criteria” for counting them in the FBI’s statistics. The chief sent ABC15 a copy of Arizona’s statutes and highlighted all of the laws he claims “don’t apply to UCR.”

One example: Domestic violence cases where the suspect “impedes the breathing or circulation of blood” of the victim.

“Yeah, no, that’s an aggravated assault,” said Eterno; and both he and Silverman agreed that Buckeye seems to be exaggerating and stretching the exemptions. “The highlighting of all of those areas they are not including, most of those probably should be included.”

Here is a sample of cases uncovered by ABC15 that were not counted in Buckeye’s aggravated assault statistics.

- On October 24, 2017 , a suspect was arrested for shoving his roommate to the ground, and punching him repeatedly in the face. When the victim got up and tried to get away, the suspect pulled a pocket knife and held it to the victim’s neck while threatening to kill him. [In response, Buckeye claims this doesn’t count for UCR because the suspect “entered a private residence.”]

- On May 16, 2017 , a man was arrested for pinning a woman down and punching her in the face. The woman suffered multiple injuries, including a black eye. The suspect also was accused of strangling the victim until she lost consciousness.

- On 5/15/2017 , a Buckeye firefighter was attacked by his girlfriend’s estranged husband. The suspect punched the firefighter in the face. The victim suffered broken eye socket bones, a broken nose, needed stitches and was referred to a plastic surgeon.

In an email, Chief Halls said his staff recently identified two new cases that should have been included in the stats last year. ABC15 also sent Hall a list of nearly a dozen arrests for sex crimes last year -- many which don’t appear to have been counted in the statistics.

Hall wrote his staff would supply answers regarding those cases by May 8. [ABC15 is still awaiting a response and will update this story if they’re provided.]

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com .