New Orleans IG says he’s examining crime stats

A day after state Sen. J.P. Morrell asked the state legislative auditor to examine New Orleans’ crime statistics for accuracy, Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux sent Morrell a letter saying his office has already begun such an inquiry and he expects it to be complete by the end of the year.

Morrell’s request for an outside look came a day after The Times-Picayune published several stories raising questions about the veracity of the crime data that the New Orleans Police Department reports to the FBI each year — in particular, the relatively low number of aggravated assaults.

Criminologists say the city’s reported rates of such assaults — and violent-crime rates overall — are suspiciously low given New Orleans’ stubbornly high murder rate, which in recent years has been the highest in the nation. Morrell, saying the numbers “don’t make sense,” filed a resolution Monday asking the legislative auditor to scrutinize the data more closely.

Experts have said that aggravated assault rates tend to rise in tandem with murder rates, as both crimes are essentially the expression of similar violent impulses. But that hasn’t been the case in New Orleans, which reports a rate of assault much lower than many other comparable cities.

The Times-Picayune’s story also noted that the number of people being treated for shootings and stabbings at local trauma centers has not fallen nearly as dramatically as the rate of shootings and knifings reported by the NOPD to the FBI.

Morrell said Tuesday that he was glad to hear an inquiry into the crime data is under way, but he believes the job should be handled by the city’s independent police monitor, Susan Hutson, rather than the IG. He sent a letter to Quatrevaux late Tuesday making that point.

Even though Hutson reports to Quatrevaux, Morrell said he would be “suspect” of a report handled by the inspector general. He said he plans to continue with his resolution for an investigation by the state legislative auditor, and he expects the Legislature will pass it.

“I think it’s going to pass, and we’ll have another third party confirm or disaffirm these numbers that don’t make any sense,” Morrell said. “It’s in the citizens of New Orleans’ best interest to have as many groups as possible look at these numbers and see if they’re correct.”

He added: “Let’s be honest, there was a reason why we separated (the two offices). We wanted an office dedicated to monitoring the Police Department.”

Morrell said he believes Quatrevaux has refused to properly fund Hutson’s operation, echoing a complaint of several speakers at a meeting of the Ethics Review Board a day earlier. The board, which oversees the IG’s office, voted to hire Quatrevaux for four more years.

In an interview, Quatrevaux disputed Morrell’s assertion that he hasn’t devoted enough funding to the police monitor, and also rejected the idea that the job of vetting crime stats belongs to the monitor.

“The IG has responsibility for oversight of all city operations, including NOPD,” he said. “If you read the ordinance (creating the independent police monitor), it says nothing (that) reduces the responsibility of the IG.”

Quatrevaux said his office laid out plans for the auditing of crime statistics in its strategic plan for 2013, unveiled in September. Much of his office’s attention over the next two years will be devoted to examining the NOPD and the criminal justice system as a whole, he added.

Tony Radosti, vice president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, which has repeatedly raised questions about the accuracy of the NOPD’s crime data over the years, said the crime commission believes an audit or two is a good idea.

“In the past, on at least three different occasions, the crime commission has questioned the legitimacy of the crime stats under multiple superintendents,” he said. “There have been problems proven. The article (The Times-Picayune) published speaks volumes. Is there something wrong? Is New Orleans an anomaly? Or do we have a undertone of what we had several years ago in the 1st District,” when an internal NOPD probe found widespread “downgrading” of crimes.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who often touts New Orleans’ relatively low violent crime rate, said Tuesday that he has no reason to think the Police Department is somehow “cooking the books” on crime stats. But he said he welcomes an outside look.

“I would love to have it,” he said. “We’re not interested in telling people the city of New Orleans is safe so we can protect our tourism business. It doesn’t make any sense to fudge the numbers so that people can think we’re safe if we’re not safe.”