Flynn, Journal Sentinel spar over latest investigation into MPD crime coding errors
Photo: Video by tmj4.com
Click here to listen to Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn's complete interview on Newsradio 620 WTMJ's "Midday with Charlie Sykes."
MILWAUKEE - Police Chief Edward Flynn is angrily responding to the latest Journal Sentinel watchdog report into the Milwaukee Police Department .
Flynn called Wednesday's article and others by the Journal Sentinel about the reporting of crime statistics in the city "a campaign of lies of omission."
The article by reporter Ben Poston says that the MPD's record clerks have "routinely changed computer codes by hand in a way that removes serious assaults from the city's violent crime rate."
"I believe there is an effort to mislead the public about crime in this city, but it's not us. It's the Journal Sentinel," said Flynn on Newsradio 620 WTMJ's "Midday with Charlie Sykes."
"They are doing everything they can to misrepresent the work of this police department to its community."
Flynn specifically claimed that Poston not only found examples of record clerks giving a downward categorization of crimes from aggravated assault to simple assault, but upward coding errors which brought about the reverse situation in crime statistic reports.
"Poston himself has acknowledged to us that he has found upward coding errors," said Flynn.
"We have found upward coding errors...when a simple assault gets categorized as an aggravated assault. That doesn't count. That's not news. It's only news if we code it downward."
Poston says the chief's comment isn't true.
"I did not find upward coding errors, nor did I ever tell MPD that, but MPD says they have found some," said Poston in an e-mail to Newsradio 620 WTMJ News Director Jon Byman.
Poston also talked to Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Wisconsin's Afternoon News about the Flynn attacks.
Flynn also claims that with the exception of Sykes, Journal Broadcast Group's Milwaukee news operations (which include Newsradio 620 WTMJ and TODAY'S TMJ4) are following the same pattern of reporting Milwaukee Police stories as the Journal Sentinel.
"They've decided there are prizes and profits in tearing down this police department. It is a profit-minded, corporate decision. With the exception of (Sykes), who has got the credibility and ratings to be independent, the rest of 'TMJ Enterprises' is in lockstep with these guys."
(Journal Communications is the parent company of the Journal Sentinel, TODAY'S TMJ4 and Newsradio 620 WTMJ.)
Steve Wexler, Journal Broadcast Group executive vice president responded with this statement:
"The WTMJ newsroom operates independently of the Journal Sentinel newsroom, and vice versa. In this particular case, we reported on the Journal Sentinel's findings regarding crime data and are more than happy to give the chief an opportunity to respond. To claim that WTMJ and the Journal Sentinel have conspired against the Milwaukee Police Department through some sort of corporate dictate is simply not true".
Flynn also explained to Sykes that the issues involving coding errors have happened for years, that the issue "predates my administration," and that the constant presence of mis-coded stats shows that crime has still dropped in the City of Milwaukee. Flynn said at one point during the interview that the issue goes back at least six years. At another point, he said it goes back at least seven years.
"People without malice, trying to get through the work day, have been coding some of these things incorrectly. If that coding error is constant over time, that still means this police department is moving the crime rate in the right direction. But it doesn't fit the narrative, so no information about prior years will ever make it into these darn reports of (the Journal Sentinel)," said Flynn.
When asked about the specific issues regarding the coding errors, Flynn gave this explanation:
"The statute for assault in Wisconsin has 13 subsections of drop-down menus. The errors are apparently concentrated in this category."
"In many of these situations, the pattern of the incident is not aggravated. If I punch you in the nose, and I have a gun or a knife in my pocket or brandish a club in the other fist, that is an aggravated assault."
"Many of our officers, in good faith - because they know where the charge is going to go - type in a code of simple assault."
"When that goes to central records for the Uniform Crime Report, the computer will not accept a simple assault in which a weapon is referenced in the body of the report."
"Clerical workers, in good faith, to get the report into UCR, when they see a conflict with the heading the officer put in, and what the computer is telling them, resolve it in favor of what the officer described the crime as. The only way to do that is to say 'there was no weapon' or 'other.' It was not an attempt to skew the numbers."
"We've changed that now, but that's what's been going on for years."
He says the articles fail to represent the work his department has done in recent years.
"The work of the men and women in this police department matter. Over the course of four years, we went from 53,000 traffic stops a year to nearly 200,000 stops a year. We went from 14,000 subject stops a year to 60,000 stops a year. We've analyzed data, deployed resources where the crime dots are," said Flynn.
"If you look at the homicide rate, for 20 years, the average in this city was 127. The last four years, the average has been something like 83. That's progress."