Buckeye officials no longer stand by low crime stats after ABC15 investigation

BUCKEYE, AZ -

Top Buckeye officials, including the police chief, are unwilling to stand by the city’s violent crime statistics after an ABC15 investigation exposed those numbers were based on dubious exemptions and the under-classification of serious crimes.

It’s a sharp contrast from the same officials who were proudly and publicly touting the numbers in recent weeks.

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

Mayor Jackie Meck used the numbers in his state of the city address to thank Chief Larry Hall and call Buckeye the safest city in the Phoenix-metro area.

Chief Hall refused a handful of ABC15’s interview requests in recent weeks. Mayor Meck and City Manager Roger Klingler didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

ABC15 recently approached Meck and Hall at public meetings.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Meck, when asked about the statistics before a city council meeting.

At the same council meeting, Buckeye’s communication director Annie DeChance criticized ABC15’s reporting as inaccurate but didn’t cite any examples. She also accused ABC15 of “milking the story.”

DeChance wouldn’t directly answer a question about whether she stands by the crime statistics. Instead, she said, “I stand by Chief Hall.”

When Chief Hall was asked if he still was willing to stand by his department’s crime statistics, he said, “I’m going to stand by this investigation, and if we’re off in any way or any particular area we need to improve on, we will figure out what we need to do.”

A reporter then asked if that meant Hall no longer stood by the numbers. “It’s not a no,” Hall said. “It's a; I’m going to wait and see.”

Hall’s referring to an outside investigation launched by the city last September after 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.

Inside Buckeye, sources have also told ABC15 that there’s been an effort to spin crime statistics by the administration.

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.

But an ABC15 investigation discovered the city’s rock-bottom violent crime rate is based on dubious exemptions and by under-classifying crimes that experts said should be counted. The city’s 2017 statistics raise significant questions, especially the reported numbers for aggravated assault (eight) and sex assault (three).

After challenging Buckeye about the numbers, city officials have since admitted those numbers were wrong.

Specifically, ABC15 presented Buckeye with a batch of sex assault arrests that weren’t included in the 2017 statistics. An assistant chief verified that four of those should have been counted by were incorrectly listed in department records.

ABC15 found those reports in a small sample of the Buckeye’s own arrest records. The charges in those four cases were marked as sex assaults, so it’s not clear how those cases were incorrectly listed or how many other cases were reported to the city and never counted.

It also means Buckeye’s sex assault numbers should have been at least seven -- more than twice as high.

The station’s research of 2017 cases also revealed that Buckeye’s sex assault statistics in 2015, when the city only reported one such crime, were also inaccurate. Last year, there were two people arrested for sex assaults that were originally reported in 2015.

FBI statistic guidelines require the inclusion of all reported violent crimes regardless if there was an arrest.

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

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