Detroit yearly rape totals vastly underreported
Detroit — Police officials on Tuesday reported there were 322 sexual assaults in Detroit last year — but the actual number was more than five times that.
According to police records reviewed by The Detroit News, there were 1,845 sexual assaults in the city.
Behind the vastly different numbers are two factors: Detroit Police, like most departments, release statistics to the public using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting method — which doesn’t count all sexual assaults. And the city uses old CRISNET reporting software, which doesn’t automatically update changes in investigations.
“There’s nothing nefarious going on,” Police Chief James Craig said. “Nobody’s scrubbing anything; this is just the way crimes are reported industrywide.”
The reporting method gives people a false impression about the scope of sexual assaults, said Jennifer Jones, director of the Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy Center in Colorado, who added that rapes already are underreported.
“Even if a victim does call police, they’re sometimes talked out of making a report,” Jones said. “Between that and the way sexual assaults are reported, a lot of statistics get left out.”
Wayne State University research professor David Martin, program director for the school’s Urban Safety Unit in the Center for Urban Studies, said: “The whole business of reporting official crime numbers is complicated.”
“There’s a long history of discrepancies with reporting rape numbers,” he said. “In Chicago, they used to put an asterisk next to their statistics.”
Martin is in charge of handling Detroit police statistics and generating reports.
In addition to the restrictions of FBI’s reporting method, Detroit’s computer system for tallying crime is flawed, Martin said.
CRISNET “is old, and was never meant to be used to generate crime statistics,” he said. “Probably 80 percent of it is easy; a report goes in and it’s logged.
“But for the other 20 percent, there are sometimes 25-26 versions of the same police report, where information changes over time as an investigation moves forward.”
Under the FBI’s method, only Criminal Sexual Assault 1 and 3, which involve force and penetration, are counted.
Criminal Sexual Assault 2, (intentional touching of intimate parts or clothing covering intimate parts, for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification); and Criminal Sexual Assault 4 (involving either force or coercion, or an incapacitated victim) are not counted, Martin said.
Before 2013, FBI guidelines defined rape as: “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”
“Many agencies interpreted this definition as excluding a long list of sex offenses that are criminal in most jurisdictions, such as offenses involving oral or anal penetration, penetration with objects, and rapes of males,” the FBI wrote on its website when updating the definition of rape to include other offenses.
Martin said he recently met with Motorola executives to discuss buying an up-to-date computer system that would integrate records starting from the original 911 call, and include changes in investigations, rather than the current system, which requires detectives to go back into the system and manually make changes.
“The city actually purchased systems from two different vendors during the Kwame Kilpatrick administration,” Martin said. “Now, the city is somewhat hamstrung because of poor decisions in the past.”
Until a new system is in place, it’s important for police to make sure the latest, most accurate information is logged, Craig said.
“What’s initially put into the system isn’t always accurate,” he said. “For instance, if something is reported as a rape, but it turns out to be consensual sex, then the detectives need to do a followup so the statistics are accurate.”
Craig conceded some of the initial reports of sexual assaults likely should have been revised.
“I’m going to make sure our detectives are diligent about updating these incidents, so we can have the most accurate numbers,” he said.