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Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said on Wednesday that FBI data showing HPD is doing a poor job of solving crimes is “incorrect” – even though the numbers come directly from HPD.
The chief, speaking at the Honolulu Police Commission meeting, took issue with statistics published by Civil Beat last week that show HPD’s clearance rate in 2018 was the lowest it had ever been, according to state and federal data that goes back nearly 40 years. The clearance rate reflects the cases that result in arrest or closure as a percentage of total reported cases.
The FBI data showed that in 2019, HPD solved only 25.7% of violent crimes reported and 5.4% of property crimes reported.
Ballard declined to be interviewed for the Civil Beat story, saying that HPD would only discuss clearance rates once the Attorney General’s Office releases its annual Crime in Hawaii report. But both the FBI and the AG get their data from the same place: HPD. That report had not been issued Wednesday when she discussed the statistics with the police commission.
Civil Beat used data directly from the AG’s Crime in Hawaii reports for its 40-year analysis. The AG hasn’t published Honolulu’s numbers since its 2017 report, so Civil Beat used FBI numbers to calculate HPD’s 2018 and 2019 clearance rates. On Wednesday, Ballard said the latest FBI numbers are wrong.
“These stats are not as simple as taking one number and dividing it into another,” she said.
But that’s precisely what the AG has done in every Crime in Hawaii report going back over 20 years. And that’s done with the agreement of HPD, according to AG spokesman Krishna Jayaram. HPD gives the data to the AG’s office, a statistician analyzes it, and it’s then sent back to HPD to make sure the agency is comfortable with the findings, Jayaram said.
The data in the Crime in Hawaii reports covering the early 1980s through 2017 show declining clearance rates for both violent and property crimes. The AG’s office trusts the results, Jayaram said.
“We have a high degree of confidence in the report itself with the understanding that the original raw data comes from the department,” Jayaram said.
But Ballard says her department is doing better than the numbers would lead you to believe. According to the FBI’s numbers, HPD solved 80% of homicides that occurred in 2018 and 63% in 2019.
“In actuality, it was a 94.1% clearance rate,” she said, seeming to refer to 2018. “We pulled every single report and went through every single report. So we know that those statistics are correct, those particular ones.”
Ballard said the clearance rate for rape is also higher than FBI numbers show. For 2018 and 2019, the FBI’s data shows clearance rates of 14.81% and 22.35%. According to Ballard, it’s 40% “right now” although she didn’t specify what year she was referring to.
The chief said she was sharing supposedly corrected clearance rates on “just the ones that we’ve taken a look at.”
Throughout Ballard’s talk about how the FBI numbers are wrong, none of the commissioners asked Ballard what she believes her department’s overall clearance rate is, and she did not volunteer that information.
In general, Ballard said the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system is “not uniform.” The FBI has strict definitions for crimes that force HPD to “put a square peg in a round hole,” Ballard said. For example, when the FBI asks about auto theft, jurisdictions in Hawaii have to report the next closest thing in the law: unauthorized control of a propelled vehicle, or UCPV. Ballard said an officer can make an arrest for UCPV that would not count as an auto theft clearance.
“It’s always going to be extremely low because the square peg in the round hole again,” she said.
Doug Chin, who recently joined the commission, said he could understand some of the data challenges Ballard outlined.
However, her reasoning doesn’t explain why HPD’s clearance rates have decreased over time when the same FBI definitions have been in place for years, he told Civil Beat.
“The HPD of 2018 had the same bureaucracy and inconsistencies with the state’s statutes and federal guidelines as they did back in 2003,” said Chin, who was the Hawaii Attorney General for three years and published the Crime in Hawaii reports showing HPD’s declining clearance rates.
At the commission meeting, Ballard also called the quality of her own department’s record-keeping into question.
“Garbage in, garbage out, when it comes to computers,” she said. “We have hundreds, if not thousands, of officers inputting into the system on a regular basis. If the information is not inputted correctly, then it’s not going to be reported out correctly. And of course, that’s a user error on our side or a training issue.”
The chief said there is also the potential for “computer errors.”
“We give a disk to the FBI and to the Attorney General, and they pull … we don’t know what’s on it,” she said. “It’s all just written computer code. And so when they get it, we don’t know what they’re pulling off of it, or how they’re pulling off of it. Even if you ask the FBI, they don’t know. And just to give you another idea, if there is data missing that the FBI needs to do this report, they just estimate or they extrapolate based on whatever numbers that they use.”
On the FBI’s charts on Honolulu, there are some years where the numbers differ from the AG’s reports and cases where data is missing.
Civil Beat requested an interview with the chief after the meeting and emailed questions about the numbers Ballard shared with the commission. Ballard did not respond.
Despite her rejection of the reported clearance numbers, Ballard said the department has instituted changes that could improve the department’s stats.
In 2018, soon after she became chief, she said the department used millions of dollars in civil asset forfeiture money to implement a new CAD RMS system – computer-aided dispatch and records management system. It’s “the backbone for everything HPD does,” Ballard said.
HPD plans to implement improved training for detectives and officers, she said. The department struggles with intra-departmental turnover, with officers moving between job responsibilities every three months, Ballard said. That means constant training is needed, she said.
The chief said she wants to hold HPD lieutenants more accountable for their clearance rates.
“Our lieutenants are going to have to start stepping up and have to do more auditing for detectives and also for the officers,” she said. “They’re going to have to be held responsible for all that.”
Property crime cases have also been consolidated under a single assistant chief who will be tasked with reviewing all the clearance rates and making changes. Previously, these crimes were addressed across eight separate policing districts.
“There was no consistency or accountability,” Ballard said.
Michael Broderick, another new commissioner, asked if the department would report its clearance numbers to the commission on a quarterly basis “so we are not left in the dark.” Ballard said that might be too frequent considering cases often take time to resolve.
“I can’t give you an affirmative answer right now,” Ballard said.
The Crime in Hawaii reports would usually serve the function of clearance rate transparency, but information on Honolulu’s 2018 and 2019 numbers have been held up. Jayaram said the AG’s office sent HPD its findings on 2018 data in July, but the report isn’t yet ready. That’s despite data for neighbor islands being released for 2018 and 2019.
While Honolulu’s data issues could make it tough to make an apples-to-apples comparisons between Honolulu’s clearance rates and other similarly sized cities, Chin said it’s necessary for HPD to “compare itself to itself.” And on that measure, HPD is doing worse over time.
“It’s a concern,” he said. “For me personally, I’d like to see more of a spotlight put on what these trends are because I do think it’s fair to ask: How is Honolulu doing in 2021, in comparison to how it was in 2018?”
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