The Los Angeles Times recently reported that crime statistics were being improperly reported by the Los Angeles Police Department. For a one-year time period ending in September 2013, there were about 1,200 violent crimes that were misclassified as minor crimes.
This means that there were serious crimes such as stabbings and robberies that ended up being classified as minor offenses. When a review was done on misclassifying crimes, most of the misclassifications were reporting a serious crime as a minor one and not the other way around.
Not surprisingly, incentives have consequences. The LAPD sets statistical goals at the beginning of each year. Each division has targets. The department wants to show a reduction in serious crime.
One retired police officer stated that they were spending a lot of time trying to classify crimes instead of actually dealing with the crimes.
With promotions and good public relations on the line, it is not surprising that there would be abuse here. As with almost any abuse with government, you should follow the money.
This is probably a typical case in government where bad people are given more power to do bad things, while good people are put in a position of having to stay quiet and go along, or else risk losing their job, or at least any chance of moving up.
When the LA Times interviewed people, some current police officers were afraid to speak out due to fear of retribution. Their fears were probably correct.
Who is Watching the Watchers?
There is always a problem in government, no matter what it involves. The government has a monopoly on the use of force in a given area. There isn’t competition in government the way there is competition in business.
If you don’t like what your government is doing, then your only realistic choice is to move. You will probably have to move somewhere else that has an overbearing government. And we can talk about elections, but most elections don’t really change anything. And much of the problem is that power is given to unelected bureaucrats.
It doesn’t matter if it is the FDA, the military, the Department of Education, or the local police department. They have power and they are going to use that power. We can talk about a system of checks and balances, but is this really the case?
In the case of the federal government, there is a legislative branch, an executive branch, and a judicial branch. It is supposed to be a system of checks and balances. But they are all still a part of the federal government and they all thrive based on the system of big government and power. And when you think about it, Supreme Court judges get nominated by the executive and approved by the Senate (legislative). How much balance can there be?
In the case of the LAPD (or any other police department), you’ve got the department setting crime reduction goals. Then the police officers themselves get to determine what constitutes a serious crime and they get to report the statistics. What would you expect them to do? Who would be so naïve as to think that there wouldn’t be abuses here?
Perhaps some blame should go on the people. When problems exist in society (often because of government itself), then many people turn to the government for answers and solutions. If there is high crime, they demand crime reduction by the police department. But the only way the police department is going to stop crime is if they stop enforcing the ridiculous victimless crimes on the books, particularly drug laws. Aside form that, the police can’t be everywhere at all times to ensure that crime is stopped. It is also naïve to expect the police to have such a great presence as to significantly reduce crime.
In conclusion, almost every government agency is going to act for its own benefit. When there is power to be used, it will inevitably be used and abused.
If people stop expecting government to solve all of the problems in society, then this will automatically reduce government power. It will also mean that police departments will not feel compelled to reduce crime. It will mean that police departments will have less incentive to lie about statistics.