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ASU Police Accused of Faking Crime Stats

PHOENIX (CN) - Arizona State University's Police Department falsifies crime statistics to make the university seem safer than it is, and harassed officers who objected to the "culture of corruption," six officers claim in court.

Charles Cornfield et al. sued the Arizona Board of Regents, former ASU Police Chief John Pickens, current Police Chief Michael Thompson, and 10 other ASU employees on Feb. 17 in Maricopa County Court.

The officers claim they were ordered "to change crime statistics or otherwise falsify the crime statistics to make ASU appear safer, and supervisors directed employees to change crime classification to avoid the community from seeing the crime that occurred on or around the campus."

This "culture of corruption" violates the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1990, (20 U.S.C. § 1092(f), and 34 C.F.R. 668.46), the officers say.

When the officers complained, their superiors had internal affairs investigate them and harassed them, the officers say.

When former Chief Pickens suspected they were contributing to The Integrity Report, a blog detailing alleged corruption in the ASU police department, he singled them out for interrogations and demoted them, denied them promotions, defamed them with false reports, and/or fired them, according to the complaint.

Cornfield, a 20-year law enforcement veteran, claims he was specifically targeted because he is older than 40, and says he was "forced into retirement based on the harassment he felt with this incredibly dysfunctional group of people that are supposed to 'serve and protect."

The officers describe a corrupt system run by an unqualified clique that protects cronies and "discriminates against those who were felt to be threats."

The ASU Board of Regents said it had not yet been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

The officers seek punitive damages for civil rights violations, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, falsification of records, and age discrimination (on behalf of plaintiff Cornfield only).

They are represented by David Dow, who did not immediately return requests for comment Friday afternoon.

The plaintiffs are Charles Cornfield, Benjamin R. Flynn, Bernard Linser, Patrick Murphy, William J. O'Hayer, and Matthew V. Parker.

The defendants are John Pickens, Alan Clark, William Orr, Pamela Osborne, Mark Janda, Morgan Olsen, Kevin Salcido, Michael Thompson, Assistant Chief James Hardina, Bryan Epps, Louis Scichilone, and the Arizona Board of Regent

Altering crime statistics to make police departments and their cities look good is a well-known problem nationwide. Since police violence has become a topic of national importance, the FBI has come under fire after acknowledging that it relies upon "self-reporting" from police departments to compile its annual report on national crime statistics.

In the early 1990s, the New York City police department began using CompStat, a computer program, to compile and analyze crime data, to help precincts map crime in their area and develop tactics to reduce it.

By 2000, more than one-third of police agencies with more than 100 sworn officers were using the program, or something similar to it, former federal prosecutor Val Van Brocklin wrote in a 2012 article for PoliceOne .

Though CompStat was intended to increase accountability, law enforcement agencies also could use it to fudge crime statistics to make it look like crime rates were falling, Van Brocklin wrote.

She said that an audit in 2003 found that 22,000 crimes went unreported in Atlanta in 1996 during the Summer Olympics.

In 1998, the Philadelphia police department came under Department of Justice scrutiny for underreporting crime because, as several top commanders said, "favorable statistics made higher-ups happy and helped careers."

Two years later the same department was blasted for sitting on thousands of rape and sexual assault cases, choosing to handle them with "an eraser" rather than investigation, according to the article.

Other departments were caught downgrading serious crimes to misdemeanor (New Orleans), cooking the books to "make the numbers look prettier," (New York City), and using falsified crime rates to persuade cities to close their police departments and contract with the sheriff instead (Broward County, Florida), according to Van Brocklin.

Many officers cited political pressure and pressure from superiors to falsify the statistics.

Other tactics including reporting a series of crimes as one event, misreporting rapes as "inconclusive incidents," classifying an attempted murder in a drive-by shooting as "criminal mischief," and downgrading domestic violence assaults - which allegedly helped the LAPD post a 28 percent decrease in crime one year.

Former Los Angeles Sheriff's Officer Dean Scoville wrote a similar article for the website PoliceMag, in whi8ch he said that misreporting crime dates as far back as the 1920s, before the Uniform Crime Reports was enacted in 1930.

Developed by the International Association of Police Chiefs, the Uniform Crime Reports now are handled by the FBI, which issues four publications a year on statistical results gathered from law enforcement agencies.

Though a valuable tool for professors, government officials, and the media for crime reporting, Scoville found the UCR is tainted with information that is inaccurate, either by accident or human intent.

Numbers can be manipulated to make police agencies look competent and strong, or, if federal funding is desired, particularly vulnerable and in need of money.

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