“Inconsistent Criminal Data – leading one to question why tens of thousands of dollars are being wasted every year in a fruitless exercise”

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Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

From Denise Krepp, ANC6B10 Commissioner:

“Yesterday, I testified before the DC Council Committee on Judiciary about the inconsistency of criminal data. Three different entities collect arrest, prosecution, and sentencing data. They then compile it into annual reports which are shared with Congress and the DC Council. Unfortunately, the information is inconsistent leading one to question why tens of thousands of dollars are being wasted every year in a fruitless exercise.

The DC Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission compiles sentencing data. This data is then shared with the DC Council. Per the Commission’s 2014 Annual Report, the D.C. Superior Court sentenced 1,773 offenders in 1,921 felony cases that consisted of 2,844 individual felony counts. (Page iii, here) So far everything looks good, but read on.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office compiles conviction data which is shared every year with Congress. Per the U.S. Attorney’s Office annual report, there were 322 felony cases disposed of by jury trials; 231 individuals in these cases were found guilty. There were also 43 felony cases disposed of by court trials and 33 individuals were found guilty. Lastly, there were 2011 felony guilty pleas in 2014. (See page 65, here). This data does not match the sentencing data provided by the Commission so who’s data is correct?

The Metropolitan Police Department also submits an annual report on crime. (See here). MPD reported that in 2014, there were 38,570 criminal acts. But in its report, the US Attorney’s Office reports that it only reviewed 24,978 arrests in 2014. What happened to the missing 14,000 criminal acts?

During my testimony yesterday, I strongly recommended that the DC Council work with the Department of Justice to create one database to track the entire life-span of criminal activity from the illegal act to sentencing. It’s time to stop wasting money compiling competing data that is inconsistent. And if it makes DOJ feel any better, the database would be consistent with the 2001 Government Accountability Office report recommending between coordination among participating agencies.

Denise Krepp
ANC6B10 Commissioner​

p.s. Please support my change.org petition encouraging DOJ to begin compiling prosecution data!”

25 Comment

  • Comment Artist

    Having worked in and/or contracted with government agencies at every level, I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • I get the impression that the D.C. government is particularly bad as far as agencies coordinating with each other on related topics — there’s a fair amount of “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.”

  • As an employee of the DC government at another agency, and someone who works with data, this absolutely does not surprise me.

    There are intricacies to tracking data that are nuanced and not as easy to understand if you aren’t in it every day, but sharing information is vitally important to providing COORDINATED services (again, I don’t work on the criminal side, at a different agency) and frankly not duplicating staff time on reporting alone.

    As someone who has to report data from all sorts of sources, I can tell you it’s a nightmare.

    • I probably need to underscore that nuance part though. It’s not really as easy as it sounds to a lay person to do all of these things. You need unique identifiers, multiple people then have to be in the same database, which means more room for error, etc etc etc.

    • That is part of what I wondered about – though it likely doesn’t account for all of the issues. Different agencies have their purview and definitions for what X equals that are different from others say even if on the face of it and to an outsider they seem the same. For example, police say there were 38,570 criminal acts but the DC Attorney’s office said they only reviewed 24,978 arrests. Does “acts” = “arrests” and if not what is the difference.

      • Can’t speak for the original post, but I can say with the interagency data I work on we at least try to use the same methodology and definition. It’s not perfect and not always comparable but we try.

  • All criminal acts do not actually result in charges being filed or brought for a various reasons.

    • …brought to trial….

    • Also, could one arrest be associated with multiple criminal acts? This blog has documented plenty of cases where one individual is arrested for multiple incidents – I assume each break in, mugging, etc, is treated as its own criminal act?

      • That as well. Prime example is the car jacking story from earlier. There are various charges that they can issue those young men. Some one will stick, some wont.

  • I hope people realize just how important this data is. The Mayor and DC Council Members have no oversight over the federal DOJ attorneys that prosecute these violent crimes as a result of the city being a federal district instead of a state, so the only way to have any chance at holding DOJ accountable for cutting violent and multiple offenders loose on easy plea deals is to have accurate data about these cases.

  • The discrepancies are easy to explain.

    1) MPD criminal act numbers exceed USAO review of arrests

    I’m not sure how MPD defines a “criminal act,” but it is almost certain that the greater number of “criminal acts” in the MPD report reflect multiple criminal offenses for one arrest. For example, if I take a gun and point it at someone, telling them to give me their money or else, I’ve committed 1) robbery, 2) threats, 3) assault, and 4) theft. Four crimes, one arrest.

    On top of that, the USAO isn’t the only one reviewing arrests. In the case of juveniles, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has jurisdiction over prosecutions. So some non-trivial number of MPD arrests aren’t being reviewed by USAO, anyway.

    Finally, there are many, many “criminal acts” that are no-papered.

    2) The Sentencing Commission has fewer felony cases than USAO

    The SC apparently has 1,921 felony cases for 2014, while USAO has 2,275 felony cases in its record. The variation probably comes from the fact that people aren’t always sentenced in the same year they are found / plead guilty. If I plead guilty on November 24th, 2014, there is a decent chance I’d be sentenced in calendar year 2015. So USAO would count me, but the Sentencing Commission would not.

    3) Conclusion

    She’s not wrong to think that a unified data system would be a good thing – it would just be expensive, time-consuming to build, etc. Still not a bad idea.

  • There is a clear misunderstanding of how the criminal justice system works. The commissioner is l comparing apples and oranges. This person should research and learn about the issue before posting something like this

  • Ms. Krepp’s letter mostly just exposes that she really does not know anything about DC’s criminal justice system. USAO does not get every arrest sent to them as they only prosecute for DC Code Felony and US Code Misdemeanor and Felony offenses. Arrests made for DC code misdemeanors would go to OAG for prosecution. In addition she should know that the 38,570 criminal acts represent criminal offenses reported to MPD and not the number of arrests. In 2014 MPD’s annual report indicates there were 41,186 arrests. Not every arrest comes from a reported offence ( think public order arrests or drug possession arrests).

    With relation to cases disposed and sentencing, Ms. Krepp does not seem to understand the time that it takes to process a case and that sentencing is a separate process from disposition.

    Lastly for the edification of your readers USAO and DCSC are federal agencies who’s budgets are approved by Congress. The DC Sentencing Commission is a DC agency.

    • Thanks, DC Native, you are correct. I would also add:

      1) Both the USAO and OAG may process arrests received directly from Metro and Park Police.
      2) For some minor criminal offenses prosecuted by the OAG, eligible arrestees are offered an opportunity to simply pay a fine without going to trial. (They maintain the right to go to trial if they wish to.)
      3) The USAO brings some cases to the US District Court, not the Superior Court, so that is yet another subset that wouldn’t be captured by the Sentencing Commission / Superior Court data.
      4) The OAG also handles all juvenile arrests when they are not tried as adults (and they rarely are in the District).

      Yes, there are absolutely some issues and challenges in this, but there are also many reasons why the numbers don’t and will not align.

  • HaileUnlikely

    I have no difficulty believing that the data contain some errors, however, Ms. Krepp’s letter does not conclusively demonstrate that it does, for the reasons that Anon (12:52 PM) outlined nicely above.

  • I asked for crime stats for my ward and was given the run around. Then, eventually MPD they didn’t really know how many people they have arrested vs how many crimes were committed. I spoke to the Attorney General’s office and she said that MPD should have the data, so I tried again. And it’s still going on after two months. Can’t get an answer…

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