Long Beach police say they’ve been accidentally over-counting the number of aggravated assaults in the city, a move that artificially inflated the violent crime statistics it reports to the FBI.
An aggravated assault is a category used by the FBI to track crime across varying jurisdictions with disparate penal codes. It’s included alongside the most-serious violent crimes like murder, rape and robbery in the statistics agencies across the country report to the FBI.
An “aggravated assault” is any assault that’s likely to inflict severe injury and usually includes a weapon, according to the FBI. Assaults that don’t meet those criteria are considered simple assaults.
“Let’s say if someone throws a shoe at someone and it bounces off of them,” LBPD Records Administrator Anna Reyes said. “Technically that’s a form of assault, but that’s considered simple assault. Now let’s say if I throw the shoe at you and it damages your eye, you need stitches, maybe you lose an eye. That’s considered aggravated because you inflicted severe bodily injury in that sense.”
In early 2018, the LBPD noticed a spike in aggravated assaults, according to the department. They jumped almost 72 percent that month compared to January 2017, according to LBPD statistics.
And they’ve stayed high. As of October, they were 59 percent higher this year than the five-year average, the department’s stats show.
It’s unclear so far how many assaults the department believes it miscategorized, but in a statement Thursday night, the LBPD said it was a “significant number of incidents.”
Long Beach police said it was too early in their reviewing process to determine when the misclassifications began.
“As we continue the review of 2018, we also are aware that we had a uptick in 2017 as well, so we will be conducting a review of 2017 to see if we experienced the same difficulties in that same time period,” LBPD Deputy Chief Richard Conant said.
Police declined to estimate how many errors they’ve already found or give specific examples of crimes that were misclassified.
Conant said the misclassifications were a result of human error and a misinterpretation of the the FBI definition.
As they tried to figure out what was happening, police deployed extra resources to try to combat the perceived spike, but what officers saw on the streets didn’t match the numbers, Conant said, so they started looking more closely at their stats.
One nearby police department, the LAPD, has been accused of doing the opposite of the LBPD: categorizing aggravated assaults as simple assaults to artificially drive down violent crime statistics.
Last year, an LAPD captain filed a claim alleging the department was covering up its true violent crime rate, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In 2015, an audit found the LAPD misclassified 25,000 crimes from 2008 to 2014.
The LBPD said they are retraining records staffers to fix any categorizing errors in the future and reports are now being reviewed daily instead of monthly to make sure they’re correctly classified.
The review is expected to be finished by the end of the month, police said.
“With this review, we anticipate seeing a decrease in aggravated assaults and an increase in simple assaults in the 2018 year-end crime statistics,” they said.
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.