Fabricate crime stats to burnish city’s image?

Here in Eureka with have the Andy Mill’s campaign to clean up crime…….on paper anyway. Our illustrious chief of police has embarked on a plan of reducing the impact of Eureka’s crime wave by make all of us believe that crime is really down. Just ask anyone in any Eureka neighborhood if crime is down and they’ll look at you like you’ve lost your mind or just laugh at you. Mills had done this by a combination cooking the books and diverting our attention with his war on the homeless.  The fact is that violent crime and property crime is on the rise in Eureka.  Just look at the number of murders we’ve had since Mills arrived!

Mills with Watson and Stephans

Mills with Captains Watson and Stephans

We just came across this story in the San Jose Mercury News.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the local media began asking the same questions about EPD’s crime reporting? Pittsburg: Did police fabricate crime stats to burnish city’s image?


PITTSBURG  California. — If you believe police department statistics, this blue-collar city has transformed itself from one of the most crime-plagued in the East Bay three decades ago to one of the safest today.

On its website, the Pittsburg Police Department touts charts showing that the city now records lower per-capita FBI crime rates than upscale Walnut Creek, and two years ago it boasted that reported crime had fallen to levels not seen since Dwight Eisenhower was president. That’s a far cry from 1993, when neighboring West Pittsburg decided to change its name to Bay Point to distance itself from its namesake’s violent crime stigma.

pittsburg police

But a review of the department’s own data by this newspaper, and allegations from a former high-ranking officer, raise serious questions about whether the department and city officials fabricated statistics and misled the public about the reality of crime in the Contra Costa County city of more than 67,000 nestled on the south shore of Suisun Bay.

The review shows that, compared with similar cities nearby, Pittsburg places a far higher percentage of its reported crimes, numbering hundreds a year, in a catchall category called “suspicious circumstances,” a move that keeps them from being counted in FBI crime statistics.

A former Pittsburg police lieutenant who has filed a wrongful termination claim against the city alleges the practice is systematic and deliberate, and that officers are taught and pressured to classify certain cases — those with a lack of credible witnesses, workable leads or unlikely prosecutions — in a manner that treats them as if they were not crimes at all. Even a Pittsburg stabbing case that became a homicide when the victim died was initially classified merely as a suspicious circumstance.

The doctored statistics scheme was discussed in command staff meetings and taught to new officers fresh from academies, said attorney Dan Horowitz, who represents Lt. Wade Derby, the former officer making the allegations. He said supervisors would alter reports and pressure rank-and-file officers to follow the policy. Another former Pittsburg police officer who once worked with Derby told a similar story.

Jim Ponzi, a Regis University criminology associate professor and 35-year Denver cop, said that using the “suspicious circumstances” classification looked to him as “another way to hide the crime.”

“The worst part of all of this is the message it sends the public,” Ponzi said after Pittsburg’s practice was described to him. “How can we expect them to believe anything that we say when they find out about things like this?”

In comparison, neighboring Antioch, which experienced a spike in crime at the same time Pittsburg reported its rate was plummeting, classifies far fewer cases as suspicious circumstances. And Richmond, long considered the most crime-plagued city in the county, says it does not use that category at all.

“If the elements of a crime are alleged, we document and report it as the most serious crime it can be, even if it is unsolved,” said Richmond Capt. Mark Gagan.

How to define

There is no standard definition of a suspicious circumstance, and the FBI’s guide to Uniform Crime Reporting, known as UCR, does not discuss it. But other cities that use the classification say it is only for unusual incidents in which police cannot say for sure that a crime occurred.

Pittsburg police officials deny doing anything untoward but would not discuss their reporting practices in detail. The department said it would have to consult with legal counsel before deciding to share even a portion of the suspicious circumstances reports with this newspaper. In California, police reports, though not confidential under law, are often shielded from public view.

Pittsburg police Chief Brian Addington did say that of the 209 suspicious circumstances reports from last year, fewer than 80 involved incidents that included “possible” felony crimes reportable to the FBI, according to a survey his department did following this newspaper’s inquiries. The chief said it has also invited the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office to audit Pittsburg’s 2015 suspicious circumstances reports.

“Whether we examine more years has not been decided,” Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson said.

In an emailed statement, Addington said the city has reviewed Derby’s 32-page claim but could not comment on specific allegations or this newspaper’s findings because of anticipated litigation.

Pittsburg police officials deny doing anything untoward but would not discuss their reporting practices in detail. The department said it would have to consult with legal counsel before deciding to share even a portion of the suspicious circumstances reports with this newspaper. In California, police reports, though not confidential under law, are often shielded from public view.

Pittsburg police Chief Brian Addington did say that of the 209 suspicious circumstances reports from last year, fewer than 80 involved incidents that included “possible” felony crimes reportable to the FBI, according to a survey his department did following this newspaper’s inquiries. The chief said it has also invited the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office to audit Pittsburg’s 2015 suspicious circumstances reports.

“Whether we examine more years has not been decided,” Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson said.

In an emailed statement, Addington said the city has reviewed Derby’s 32-page claim but could not comment on specific allegations or this newspaper’s findings because of anticipated litigation.

“The Pittsburg Police Department understands the important role of ensuring crime statistics accurately reflect the crimes that occur within our city,” he said in a statement. “Our staff is thoroughly trained on the UCR reporting requirements, and we have quality-control measures in place that ensure UCR crime data that we submit to the Department of Justice is accurate.”


Stabbing incidents

But two Pittsburg police reports obtained by this newspaper indicate that at least some serious crimes are being classified in highly unusual ways.

In each incident, a man was stabbed by unknown assailants, and instead of closing the case as felony aggravated assaults, the cases were listed as suspicious circumstances, helping lower the annual crime statistics sent to the FBI, which catalogs crime data from every police department in the country.

One man later died, leading the department to scramble to launch a belated homicide investigation because it had not fully investigated the assault in the first place, said Horowitz.

“It makes the department look like (it’s) doing a good job when it’s not,” Horowitz said.

At first glance, Pittsburg’s crime data tell the compelling story of a turnaround. For 2014, the most recent FBI crime numbers, the city reported 175 violent crimes. That’s down from 643 such crimes in 1985, the first year the FBI reported crime statistics for individual law enforcement agencies, despite the city’s population growing from 38,876 to 67,509 over that period.

Many in Pittsburg, including Derby, agree that the police force deserves credit for some of the decline. Addington pointed to numerous factors helping lower crime rates: massive downtown redevelopment, more than 120 surveillance cameras in crime hot spots, youth outreach, special enforcement programs and reductions in blight.

The lower crime rate has become a source of community pride, touted at the annual state-of-the-city event. In 2014, then-mayor Sal Evola ended the luncheon at the Elks Lodge by touting Pittsburg’s crime turnaround.

“Pittsburg has had a long-standing stigma of high crimes, but as you see, that is not the case,” he said.

But as the crime rate dipped, the police department’s use of the “suspicious circumstances” category far surpassed its East County neighbor. Pittsburg averaged 245 such incidents a year between 2000 and 2014, according to department numbers. By comparison, Antioch averaged 74 suspicious circumstances cases a year during the same time frame, despite having 40,000 more residents in 2014.

The police agency in Contra Costa’s largest city, Concord, with almost 127,000 residents, registered 177 cases under the “suspicious circumstances” category in 2014, a small fraction of its nearly 21,500 total cases. Compare that with Pittsburg, which had 193 suspicious circumstances cases that year with just under 10,000 cases opened.

“It’s a suspicious circumstance only if a crime did not occur,” Concord police Sgt. Kristen Thomas said.

Rumors that crimes are underreported in Pittsburg have swirled in law enforcement circles for some time; this newspaper inquired about the city’s practices in 2012 but was stymied in part by a lack of cooperation from police, who declined to provide any records in response to a reporter’s request.

Then Derby emerged, outlining in his claim against the city a 28-year career of voicing opposition to internal corruption. He alleges he was pushed to retire in January. Derby, 50, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Through Horowitz, Derby alleges that the police department uses multiple means to manipulate crime stats. Among other methods, he said complaints of crimes were sometimes not responded to, and rapes were often closed as “simple assaults” or suspicious circumstances.

Former Pittsburg police Officer Randall Watkins, who worked with the department for seven years, ending in 2001, said in a phone interview that crime manipulation “directives came from the top and disseminated through to the sergeants.”

Watkins, now a field training officer with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office, said he wrote a strong-arm robbery report of an ice cream vendor who was beaten and robbed of his money and bicycle, but his superior officer changed his report to misdemeanor battery and theft. He said many of the manipulated crimes involved Hispanic victims with language barriers, and officers were told not to waste their time investigating, and instead classify the crime as a suspicious circumstance.

“They pulled the wool over the public’s eyes. It’s that simple,” Watkins said. “The manipulation of the crime stats had the community believing crime was going down, but in reality we had the same number of calls for service.”

National problem?

Pittsburg is not the only department to be accused of manipulating its crime stats. In the late 1990s, Philadelphia police were audited by the federal government after it was revealed they were cooking their crime numbers.

Lt. Col. David Grossman, a leading trainer for law enforcement agencies across the country, said the practice is not uncommon. He called the manipulation of crime statistics “the single greatest ethical failure in American government today, and it has gone completely unreported at the national level.”

In his claim, Derby alleges the Pittsburg department began massaging the crime stats after former San Francisco police Chief Will Casey took over in 1993 following some turbulent years. The agency wanted to move away from a series of scandals, including officers charged with copying and pasting crime reports on drug cases, and two officers who were convicted of kidnapping and killing a Safeway clerk.

The department issued a Uniform Report Writing Guidelines booklet for officers, which included specific instructions on how to categorize crimes as suspicious circumstances, including:

“Crimes being reported as a felony but are surrounded by circumstances which obscure the facts.”

“Where the elements of the crime are in doubt or not fully met and further information is not available to the investigating officer at the time the report was taken.”

Casey, now a city councilman, called Derby a “jerk” and “not a credible” source. Asked about classifying felonies in the “suspicious circumstances” category, the former chief said in a phone interview: “I certainly don’t remember that.”

“Crime reports were as accurate as they could possibly be. There was no artificial manipulation,” he said.

Former Pittsburg mayor and state Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, who agrees that crime has declined over the years, voiced concerns about the allegations.

“The department has been able to regain some of the trust and confidence that was lost as a result of past actions; this type of report, if true, simply is a step backward not just for the PD but the image of the city as a whole,” Canciamilla said.

This newspaper obtained the two suspicious circumstances stabbing case files that bolster Derby’s contentions.

On May 1, 2010, 35-year-old Enrique Mendoza was walking west on East Leland Road when someone ran up and stabbed him in the stomach. There was scant suspect information, only a sighting of a man wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, according to the Pittsburg police report.

The case was closed less than 48 hours after the attack and not assigned to investigations, according to the report. That changed when Mendoza died two weeks later on May 13, 2010, at John Muir Medical Center in Concord because of complications from “sepsis, pneumonia and peritonitis due to stab wound of abdomen,” according to his autopsy report. It was ruled a homicide, and Horowitz said the department scrambled to start a murder case.

“With Pittsburg police, it didn’t feel like he was their priority,” Mendoza’s daughter, Jenelle Sierra, said in a phone interview. “I didn’t feel like they were too involved.”

She said that changed after her father died. Eventually, a Bay Point heroin dealer was convicted of murder.

In the second example, on June 10, 2012, Benjamin Alvarado was kidnapped at knifepoint by a woman on the eastbound Highway 4 off ramp at San Marcos Boulevard and forced to drive to Antioch. In the Pittsburg police report narrative, the officer wrote that the woman attempted to rob Alvarado, and stabbed him with a knife in the abdomen.

“If you want to keep your aggravated assault numbers down, you do just what the police department did in (this) example,” said Ponzi, after reviewing the two reports.




11 thoughts on “Fabricate crime stats to burnish city’s image?

  1. Nothing original.
    Another case of TE putting square pegs in round holes….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. May be you should consider cutting down on the wacky tabacky a bit.


  3. Since Mills was from the San Diego area, I thought this recent LA Times story interesting..

    “San Diego district attorney reverses course and releases video of officer-involved shootings ”


    “Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis has released video of three San Diego police officer-involved shootings, a reversal of her previous declarations that all such footage would be treated as evidence to be seen only in court.

    “The position represents a major departure from historical practices, but we recognize the times have changed,” Dumanis said in a news briefing Friday at her offices. “This is really new territory.”……Christie Hill, senior policy strategist for the San Diego ACLU, said the group supports the direction Dumanis is taking.

    “It’s important that the information is released and it’s available to the public,” Hill said. “The public wants this information…. There is a call to more transparency.”…”


    Liked by 2 people

  4. Unfortunately, it appears Mills has won the day. For whatever reasons, most folks in Eureka have just become resigned to the fact that Eureka is crime ridden. Whether or not the “statistics” look good or bad, most in Eureka just accept that policing in the City is ineffective and there’s nothing that suggests it will change.

    Now a bit off topic but definately related….has anyone heard anything progressive from the council besides Atkins making a motion regarding the AHHA proposal?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. If there were anyone in a position of authority in Eureka that actually cared about Eureka, they would be unanimous in incorporating the border communities.

    Increasing Eureka’s population to its accurate number, around 60,000, would remove it from some of the highest rates of every deplorable human health and crime statistic in the state.

    No one in their right mind is locating their family or business to Eureka except for Eureka’s largest growth industry in predatory entrepreneurship profiting from desperation.

    Timber-industry families stayed on top by using local government to ensure unbridled growth on Eureka’s borders, paying little for the unfunded impacts on poor Eureka.

    If Mills develops a conscience or decides to leave town, all he has to do is start telling the truth, piss off the local Bigs, be wrongfully terminated, and pick up his fat settlement check…just like the last chief.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Why is the police department responsible for lowering the crime rate? We don’t hold doctors responsible for the heart attack rate or the stroke rate but for some reason we seem to think the people whose job it is to investigate crime and arrest those suspected of having committed crime are responsible for the numbers of crime committed.

    How came that to be? No law ever passed has stopped a crime. No police officer by taking on the job has prevented a crime and yet we get these long, nonsensical missives from TE about how the police are manufacturing bullshit to cover up for the fact that they haven’t prevented crimes from occurring.

    We need police to investigate crimes and I’d much rather see more resources dedicated to investigating the regular car and house burglaries then have some bullshit crime prevention service that means nothing to the people whose only deterrent to committing a crime is that they are in jail or prison.

    I don’t hold Andy Mills responsible for the number of crimes that are committed in the city just as I don’t hold Cal Fire responsible for the number of wildfires or Cal Trans for the number of rock and mud slides. Crime prevention is a societal tool and crime in and of itself is a symptom of a societal ill and calling out police because criminals continue to commit crimes makes as much sense as calling out local doctors because thousands of local residents have terrible diets and don’t exercise enough and therefore have health problems related to those actions.

    You’re not helping on this issue, TE, you’re just pontificating while conflating crime prevention — a goal of society at large — with crime investigation and prosecution and you should really know better.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Eureka police have a history of refusing to respond to emergency calls unless there’s an injury, in the interest of saving $, and in the interest of reducing Eureka’s traffic accident reports that are among the highest in the state per capita.

    This is just another example of a statistic that makes Eureka look like a horrible place to live or to locate a business. It is a city of 60,000, not 28,000.

    TE is right to question how this city tallies all its police reports.

    Nevertheless, local media lacks the courage or resources to act as a watchdog and everyone knows it.

    That’s how law enforcement gets a pass on shooting so many civilians, refusing to release video evidence, rousing the destitute from their cars at night, chasing them from camp to camp, with the public paying millions in attorney’s, settlements, high insurance rates, and unreported millions in unknown, unreported costs of managing homelessness, at risk youths, mental illness, and addiction, untrained in all of it. (A source of lawsuits).

    Again, if the so-called leaders, public professionals, and elected representatives cared about Eureka, they would have insisted long-ago, that Eureka’s border communities be incorporated.

    Until they grow a conscience, Eureka will continue to receive inadequate state and federal funding based on a bogus population that serves development industry profiteering.

    Until then, Eureka can expect to continue attracting little capital investment, and another wave of resignations from underfunded, overworked, credentialed professionals.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So you failed to address any points that were raised, Why, are police responsible for the number of crimes committed in the city of Eureka?

      We don’t hold doctors responsible for heart attacks, we ask them to treat the victims. We don’t hold fire departments responsible for the number of fires that occur, we ask them to respond to fire emergencies to extinguish a fire and rescue any victims.

      You can run with this nonsense about drug addicted assholes who refuse to avail themselves of the services available from the county and the state all fucking day, you still haven’t answered the question — why does TE hold police responsible for actions out of their control?


      • Not patrolling neighborhoods, not responding to calls, not arresting criminals; all of these and more contribute to the runaway crime in Eureka. Its not the individual police officer’s fault, it’s the City Manager and the Chief of Police that we hold responsible!

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: When’s a spike, not really a spike? | Tuluwat Examiner

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