San Francisco Police Department records distorted

An underreporting of domestic violence assaults is one of the various ways record keeping has been botched at the Police Department.

Chief George Gascón, who took over the San Francisco Police Department in August, said that about 1,200 domestic violence incidents a year should have been reported to the federal Department of Justice as aggravated assaults, but the crimes have not been entered correctly into the department’s arcane record-keeping system.

“We haven’t been doing so for many years,” Gascón recently told the Police Commission.

Gascón said the anomaly was discovered after he ordered a step-by-step analysis of the department’s record-keeping systems.

In addition to the domestic violence data, Gascón said he was concerned about the mislabeling of crimes such as robbery, burglary and auto boosting.

Also, record keepers at the Hall of Justice sometimes enter multiple crimes for the same incident. Gascón also said he was dumbfounded to find that in 2009, the system has yet to record one gang-related homicide among the 47 homicides so far.

The underreporting of domestic violence assaults, by about 100 cases a month, has painted a rosier picture of The City’s violent-crime profile. In 2008, for example, there were 2,372 aggravated assaults reported, but that number should have been closer to 3,600.

That would put San Francisco on par with San Diego, a city that has about 400,000 more residents and reported 3,597 cases of assault in 2008.

The cases are still most likely being investigated and prosecuted, though it is difficult to tell because of a lack of quality control, Gascón said.

The quality of the numbers submitted to the Department of Justice depends on the local agency that actually submits the numbers, FBI spokesman Special Agent Joseph Schadler said.

“People always want to see a trend in the numbers, but that’s what they don’t do,” Schadler said. “They’re not scientific.”

Gascón said the reporting problem should be fixed by the end of January, but it is just one step in an effort to revamp the department’s computer system. The overhaul is expected to cost as much as $8 million.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

Faulty numbers

Aggravated assaults have been grossly underreported by the SFPD because they do not include domestic violence assaults, according to police Chief George Gascón.

  Aggravated assaults Plus an estimated 1,200 domestic assaults annually
2008 2,372 3,572
2007 2,418 3,618
2006 2,435 3,635
2005 2,636 3,839

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

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