Wednesday, 01 February 2023

Mitchell: The bottom line on crime data statistics

INTRODUCTION:


In March of 2007, my department released a report on our Web site containing select crime statistics from the 2006 calendar year. Eight months later, there were two articles published in a local newspaper about these statistics that lead to confusion and concern for many of the good citizens of our county. I have since been invited to interview for a third article - intended to correct the first two. However, I have determined that it is most appropriate for me to decline that invitation and present the correct information directly to the public.


BACKGROUND:


The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is the largest law enforcement agency in the county and it has primary jurisdiction for general law enforcement in the unincorporated area. We receive a significant amount of support and assistance from a number of other law enforcement agencies including the California Highway Patrol, the Clearlake Police Department, and the Lakeport Police Department. Neither our department nor any of theirs could operate without the assistance of all others. I am constantly grateful for that mutually supportive relationship.


TERMINOLOGY:


Incident Numbers: The Lake County Sheriff’s Central Dispatch is the primary public safety answering point in the county. Every time a citizen in our county dials 911 from a land-line telephone, the call rings into our dispatch center. In addition to providing law enforcement dispatching services for our own department, we also provide contracted dispatching services for the Lakeport Police Department and for all but one of the county’s fire protection districts.


An incident number is generated in our computer system for every 911 call that our dispatch center handles. (It is the first call that triggers the incident. Subsequent calls reporting the same incident do not generate additional incident numbers.) There are a variety of other ways in which an incident number can be generated in our dispatch center’s computer system. Every time a citizen reports an alleged crime, or a missing person, or a coroner’s case, or a stranded boater, etc., another incident number is generated. There are a variety of ways that our patrol deputies initiate incident numbers also; each time a deputy stops a motorist for a traffic offense, or serves a restraining order, or arrests someone for a warrant, another incident number is issued.


There are countless examples of how a citizen’s call into dispatch, or how a radio broadcast from a deputy or police officer, can generate an incident number.


In 2006, there were 45,668 incident numbers issued in our computer aided dispatch system. It is important to note that there may have been multiple telephone calls and radio broadcasts associated with every single one of those incidents. Over the course of a year, if you combine all of this with the thousands of phone calls and radio broadcasts that are unrelated to an incident number one can easily understand why we praise our dispatchers for their multi-tasking skills.


Reports: Deputy sheriffs write reports related to suspected and confirmed crimes as well as reports that document information for non criminal situations. To reiterate, all written reports are important documents but not all of those reports pertain to confirmed or suspected crimes.


In 2006, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department wrote 5,694 reports.


Uniform Crime Report: Each California law enforcement agency is required to report “Part 1” crime data to the California Department of Justice. Since 1931, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been collecting that crime data from the states. The data is detailed in the federal Uniform Crime Report (UCR) which includes clearly defined index offenses to assure that all agencies are reporting data on the same type of offenses. In other words, the index offenses assure that all agencies are comparing “apples to apples.” There are two subcategories of offenses within the index: Personal Offenses and Property Offenses.


The eight index offenses (“Part 1” crimes) include:


1. Homicide

2. Forcible Rape

3. Robbery

4. Assault

5. Burglary/Breaking and Entering

6. Larceny/Theft

7. Motor Vehicle Theft

8. Arson


The aforementioned news articles compared the UCR data from the Clearlake and Lakeport Police departments against my department’s total incident numbers. We were not requested to provide our UCR data for 2006. When determining the average number of crimes per thousand residents, it is incorrect to suggest that the crime total is divided by 1,000. Rather, the proper method is to divide the total crimes by the total population served.


For calendar year 2006, the following information was reported for inclusion in the UCR:


Lakeport Police Department: 226 total index offenses

Incorporated Population: 5,234 (divided into 226 = .0431792)

Average 43.1 index offenses per 1,000 residents


Clearlake Police Department: 815 total index offenses

Incorporated Population: 14,877 (divided into 815 = .0547457)

Average 54.7 index offenses per 1,000 residents


Lake County Sheriff’s Department: 1,635 total index offenses

Unincorporated population 45,889 (divided into 1,635 = .0356294)

Average 35.6 index offenses per 1,000 residents


Our department’s countywide totals by index offense for 2006 are as follows:


1. Homicide: 4

2. Forcible Rape: 15

3. Robbery: 18

4. Assault: 758

5. Burglary/Breaking and Entering: 393

6. Larceny/Theft: 433

7. Motor Vehicle Theft: 4

8. Arson: 10


While these data do provide an accurate accounting of how many of those specific index offenses occur in each jurisdiction, that data alone does not aid in declaring any one community more or less safe than any other. There are countless variables to consider and each one can be a separate course of study.


It is worth repeating that the UCR data does not include all crimes reported to law enforcement agencies. One will note that many crimes such as vandalism, drug offenses, public disturbances, public intoxication, and DUI do not appear in the UCR data sets. We will continue to include all crimes reported to our department in future annual reports as these data give the public a view of issues of importance in their communities and it also helps to explain what occupies much of our time.


THE BOTTOM LINE:


Lake County is a wonderful place to live and raise a family and the men and women of your Lake County Sheriff’s Office are working hard to keep it that way.


Rodney K. Mitchell is Lake County's sheriff, coroner and Office of Emergency Services director.


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