After presenting the city council's Public Safety Committee with the latest crime statistics showing nearly an 11 percent decrease in overall crime from last year, Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle this morning addressed the elephant in the room: the police department's methodology of reporting crimes. Earlier this month, The Dallas Morning News caused a stir when it reported that many motor vehicle burglaries were not being counted as crimes, in effect allowing the city to appear safer than reality.
Kunkle offered committee members "a basic 101 of crime reporting," explaining that many crimes are never reported, and when crimes are reported, it's important to stay suspicious of a person's motivations. "There's only a couple of reasons someone reports a crime to the police," he said. "Either you have insurance and you have to report it to get the financial remuneration, or you believe the police will do something in response to you reporting it. They will recover your property, make an arrest, increase patrol or do something."
Kunkle changed the way crimes are recorded in Dallas because he believed the old system skewed the numbers negatively and was out of line with how the rest of the country counted crimes. "The final changes we made had to do with what the story was about," he said. "We created this situation that we called 'investigation of' that has no meaning except within the Dallas Police Department."
Much more after the jump, including: Ron Natinsky wants to do what?
Kunkle said the DPD has had about 1,700 incidents where people reported a burglary of a motor vehicle over the telephone and specified that there were no signs of forced entry or evidence the vehicle had been rifled through. At the time of the article in The News, Kunkle said, the department had already reclassified 400 such incidents as crimes.
"We've started sending letters out," Kunkle said of how the department is handling the remaining incidents. The letters will tell people that their incident has not yet been classified as a crime. There will be questions on the form to be filled out, including why the person believes the object was stolen, not misplaced. Then the person will sign the form which officiates the instance as a crime report.
"If all of these 1,700 incidents are made crime reports, that will affect our crime rate about 1.5 percent," Kunkle stressed.
The council members took turns commending Kunkle and added suggestions that they believed could pacify the worried public.
Committee vice-chair Delia Jasso worried that people may need more information from police after they answer a call in person and then leave. "Maybe what we might to is add a brochure to that piece of paper that will list ... five immediate things that will happen afterward," said Jasso. "So that the person feels like there is a process, there is a procedure and if you have questions, here's the things that could happen after we're gone."
Council member Ron Natinsky suggested that the committee do an open records request on The News. He noted that papers have been wrong before. "People open their Sunday paper and read it. They believe it's the gospel, so to speak -- it's got to be true," he said. "And then we're out there with a chart like this that shows we're making significant headway."
The suggestion was eventually laughed off. "You and Mr. [Tennell] Atkins, you are going to write the memo for the open records request to The Morning News?" said committee chair Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, to chuckles.
The suggestion is not likely to have much follow-through, but the fact it found such warm reception in a room full of publicly elected representatives showed the committee's priorities: positive public perception.
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"Absolutely, perception is so important," said council member Jerry Allen, adding to Natinsky's concern. "When you read about things, you hear it, and you have this perception that something's bad all the time ... The reality is, it's not true ... You go out to these areas; you go out to Fair Park. Man, that is absolutely a jewel."
While Allen felt confident to give his opinion of an area of the city far removed from his own, other council members wanted to keep the conversation focused on their own districts.
"My district is covered by three different police divisions," said council member Ann Margolin, to both Kunkle and first assistant city manager Ryan Evans. "So the reports that I get are really pretty meaningless to me if I can't tell what pertains to my district ... I'm wondering is there any way that I can get a report that's more tailored to knowing what's going on specifically in my district?"
Chief Kunkle responded that each council member already gets a crime map for their district each week. "I don't mean this to sound inappropriate, but the district maps are kind of irrelevant to us," said Kunkle. "We manage by neighborhoods."