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Report questions violent crime statistics released by Las Vegas police

The violent crime statistics in the Metropolitan Police Department’s annual reports came under scrutiny this week.

A report released Monday by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank known for being critical of public spending, showed that the department began to categorize robberies differently in 2011, a change that affected the violent crime rate released to the public.

The department classified robberies as “crimes against persons” — often referred to as violent crimes — in its annual reports before 2011. But then it began to classify robberies as property crimes.

“Prior to that, they had conformed to FBI standards,” said Daniel Honchariw, a policy analyst for the research institute.

Robbery, defined as theft of property by means of force, violence or fear of injury, has been classified as a violent crime by the FBI and most police departments across the United States since the 1930s, Honchariw’s report said.

A Metro official said Tuesday that the department is devoted to transparency and that the change likely was made to conform more closely with FBI standards.

“We’re about as transparent as a police department can be,” Metro Capt. Christopher Darcy said.

Rosie Watson, a senior support technician who prepares Metro’s crime data for submission to the FBI, showed the Las Vegas Review-Journal a snippet from a 2013 FBI data manual that defines robbery as a property crime.

But the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program’s violent crime category includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. And robbery is a violent crime under Nevada law.

Metro has published annual reports since at least the 1990s. They typically include a message to the public from the sheriff, highlight new initiatives and goals for the department and provide a summary of the year’s crime totals.

The classification shift, which is not explained or mentioned in the annual reports, significantly lowered the violent crime rate and increased the property crime rates contained in those reports.

“It’s due almost entirely to the way crime is reported,” Honchiraw said.

The rate in Metro’s 2011 report, 510 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, was about 48 percent lower than the rate presented by the FBI, 741 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. And Metro’s property crime rate was about 8 percent higher than the rate presented by the FBI, the research institute’s report said.

Crime rates given in 2012 through 2014 had similar discrepancies. Metro’s 2015 annual report, the most recent report available, did not include any crime statistics.

Darcy said that is because it takes a long time to prepare the data. The department is now preparing crime numbers from October. He also said it is no secret that the department has been battling a spike in violent crimes, so there was no need to doctor the statistics.

“There’s no sinister plot to manipulate that data,” Darcy said.

The department has not responded to the think tank’s requests for clarification, Honchariw said, and that makes it hard for him to tell why the change was made. But the analyst has a guess.

“The obvious interest is based on the tourism industry,” he said, adding that high rates of violent crime may scare potential visitors. “A high property crime rate means less to outsiders.”

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Follow @WesJuhl on Twitter.

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