Why did Nashville Mayor Karl Dean single out Ronal Serpas on stats when Murfreesboro PD had the same problems?
Six or seven weeks ago a couple of Metro Council members, the Mayor’s Office, and the local media questioned the integrity of former police chief Ronal Serpas’s reporting of crime statistics after he left for the executive position in the New Orleans police department. After a conflict between TBI and Metro Police data collection came to light, Serpas did not get the benefit of the doubt.
At the time Metro Police insisted that tracking and classifying crime was a highly subjective exercise. Like the proverbial blind men who survey an elephant, various agencies divide and interpret the data based on their own limitations and angles.
News from the Rutherford County paper, a story that slipped past media attention here in Davidson County, seems to support the Metro Police department’s defense. In an opinion piece in the Daily News Journal, editors underscore discrepancies between Greater Murfreesboro police statistics and TBI stats.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation recently released the 2009 Crime in Tennessee report, which showed a 1 percent increase over the last three years in offenses but a staggering 26 percent decrease in arrests in all Rutherford County law enforcement agencies, including La Vergne Police, Smyrna Police, Murfreesboro Police and Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office.
Those agencies reported 19,817 offenses but only 13,400 arrests, compared to 2008 when there were 19,614 offenses and 16,600 arrests.
Murfreesboro made only 3,284 arrests in 2009 compared to 5,140 in 2008, according to the TBI. Meanwhile, Smyrna’s arrests fell by 34 percent, from 3,300 in 2008 to 2,150 in 2009, and La Vergne’s arrests dropped by 23 percent. Arrests reports at the Sheriff’s Office have remained stable, largely because it has a full-time warrants division.
TBI’s numbers don’t jibe, however, with Murfreesboro’s crime data. In January, MPD reported that officers made 8,000 arrests in 2009.
The discrepancy is caused by the way the TBI and Murfreesboro record arrests. Typically, if a person is charged with five different offenses, TBI will record only the major offense. On the other hand, if a Murfreesboro officer stops a person and charges them with five offenses, if an arrest is made, the officer is credited with five arrests.
So, the issue of inconsistencies between state and local crime data is not in itself indicative of problems exclusive to Metro Police. Indeed, a few Metro officials and local journos seem ready to smear Ronal Serpas with a broader systemic or interpretive difficulty.
And for his part, New Orleans Police Superintendent Serpas is building a reputation for involving the local community in his crime stats meetings just like he did in Nashville. He also continues to emphasize community policing. Chiefs who act deceptively or refuse to be transparent do not do things like that.
Perhaps Mayor Karl Dean needs to focus less on Ronal Serpas and more on solving discrepancies between Metro and TBI crime data.