We are troubled by the recent Journal Sentinel investigation  describing the misreporting of hundreds of assault cases by the Milwaukee Police Department, especially the cases involving children. Although we understand that this misreporting of crime data has no impact on how criminal suspects are prosecuted, there is no question that the integrity of the reported crime data is an important matter of public concern. Crime reduction has been one of Milwaukee’s signature achievements of the last decade. Under Chief Flynn’s leadership, crime as reported to the FBI has continually gone down since 2007. When crime numbers are released, the decreases are usually awarded a prominent headline in the city and state’s largest paper.  Such repeated broadcasting of crime statistics not only drives public perception of city safety, but also provides a key rationale for the public acceptance of such otherwise unacceptable police tactical impacts as longer police response times , steep racial disparities in traffic stops , and recently-disclosed practice of unlawful body searches.
We are eager to have the crime reductions reported by the MPD over the last five years confirmed. The MPD has made credible arguments in regards to human error and the fact that classification of crimes will involve some judgment calls on which reasonable people can disagree. Nobody can realistically expect such statistics to be 100% accurate 100% of the time. We respect and appreciate the hard work and dedication that Milwaukee police officers give to their jobs.
That said, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has raised legitimate questions as to how the MPD is classifying data. This is why we appreciate that the results of a recent FBI audit will soon be publicly available. If this audit were to leave questions unanswered, MPD and city leaders should insist on a full independent audit to verify Milwaukee’s past crime reductions.
In defending its data reporting, the MPD has asked what the standard is in regards to crime coding errors. In making this case, Chief Flynn has referenced  other major cities that have had issues with crime data. While there is no clear standard for error rates, we know that every city has an incentive to report a drop in crime. Reports of crime reductions may provide a short-term boost to city morale and perhaps even economic activity, but such boosts are illusory if based on false pretense. It is only the actual, sustainable, real-life crime reductions that create lasting and undeniable benefit for our city It is important that the reported numbers reflect reality. We cannot chart a proper path to a stronger city unless we first have an accurate and realistic reporting of data.
The question of what error rate is acceptable is the wrong question. The appropriate question is: what must be done to ensure that Milwaukee’s crime statistics are accurate. Going forward, the answer is a regularly scheduled independent audit of MPD’s crime data that removes any doubt as to the accuracy of the numbers. In this regard Milwaukee has an opportunity to be a municipal leader in transparency and accountability, showing cities like Philadelphia and Memphis  what good government can look like.
It is shameful this episode has been used by some as yet another opportunity to bash Wisconsin’s largest city. Milwaukee is the economic, social, and cultural driver of our state. Like other major U.S cities, we have both incredible assets and complex challenges. This situation presents an opportunity for our city to stand up and proclaim that we have challenges to resolve and the assets and fortitude necessary to resolve them. Confirming our success in reducing crime and bolstering our government’s transparency qualify as good first steps.
(1) “Hundreds of assault cases misreported by Milwaukee Police Department” Ben Poston, May 22, 2012, available at: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/hundreds–of–assault–cases–misreported–by–milwaukee–police–department–v44ce4p-152862135.html
 For example, the following headlines have appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Crime down 12%; homicides cut in half” (May 23, 2008); “Milwaukee’s violent crime drops 19% in early 2008” (July 29, 2008); “Milwaukee crime drops 17% in 2009” (April 15, 2009); “Police say crime down about 15% in Milwaukee in 2009” (July 8, 2009); “Crime falls statewide, led by city” (September 16, 2009); “Crime in Milwaukee falls 12.3% overall this year” (October 20, 2009); “Crime in Milwaukee continues to decline” (January 21, 2010); “Crime in Milwaukee drops again, police statistics show” (April 29, 2010); “As crime rate drops, calls for police soar” (July 25, 2010); “Crime continues to drop, Milwaukee police statistics say” (July 29, 2010); “Flynn to announce third consecutive crime drop” (January 26, 2011); “Violent crime down across the board in Milwaukee” (May 11, 2011); “Milwaukee crime numbers continue downward trend” (August 19, 2011).
 “Racial gap found in traffic stops in Milwaukee” Ben Poston, December 3, 2011, available at: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/racial–gap–found–in–traffic–stops–in–milwaukee–ke1hsip-134977408.html
 See . Chief Flynn mentioned that Philadelphia and Memphis, among other large cities, have had questions raised about the accuracy of their reported crime data.