Phoenix Kidnapping Statistics

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An independent panel charged with reviewing questionable kidnapping statistics reported by the Phoenix Police Department has completed its work. Retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael Ryan, a member of the Kidnapping Statistics Review Panel, discusses the panel’s findings.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Phoenix has been called the kidnapping capital of America, but the accuracy of kidnapping statistics from the Phoenix police department was called into question earlier this year. At the same time, there were allegations that police intentionally falsified statistics in order to win federal grants. It all led to the ouster of the Phoenix police chief and the formation of an independent pan tole investigate the matter. That investigation was residentially completed. Joining me now is one of the panel members, retired Arizona Supreme Court justice Michael Ryan. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Michael Ryan: You're welcome.

Ted Simons: Let's get a definition here of exactly what the panel was charged with and what you found.

Michael Ryan: Well, the panel was charged I think with first of all determining whether 40% of the kidnapping statistics that were used for the grants were incorrectly classified. The original review of that done by the department of justice indicated there was some question about the number used in the grants. The grants, to be fair, did not use a specific number. They said more than 300. And then when asked for a specific figure, a unit from the police department came out with 358, and it turned out of those 358 kidnapping reports or statistics, it turned out that about 38% of them were incorrectly classified as kidnappings.

Ted Simons: So they were incorrectly classified as kidnappings, which shows one problem. But it seemed like the nature of the complaints were -- was that there was some falsification going on to get this federal money.

Michael Ryan: Right. And we -- the panel looked at that very hard, and we looked at it very closely, and we simply could not find that was the reason. That there was any intentional misleading or inflating the numbers. And that was a couple reasons. One was, the 2008 figures were developed before any idea or any grant proposals were out there. And the other reason was that the -- there were problems with the process that Phoenix Police Department used this for managing their cases. It's called the pay system. Police automated computerized entry system. And case entry system. And it is an antiquated system, and so when you draw figures or when you draw statistics from that system, it becomes -- it's not very accurate. Because of the way it works.

Ted Simons: Now, when this first started, whey someone from the panel when things were getting going, and she was saying it's quite possible that because no one was getting the reporting completely accurate and no one really knew how to report and even the definition of what was a kidnapping, there could be more kidnappings as opposed to fewer kidnappings, and it sounds like there were.

Michael Ryan: Right. The people who raised the allegations that there were far fewer kidnappings, 300 and some kidnappings in 2008 were using a very narrow definition of kidnapping. The Arizona statute, 13-1304 that defines kidnapping is much broader. And when we looked at the police reports for 2008, and we did random reviews of those police reports, and many of us on the panel have read or had read police reports in our prior careers, and were familiar with them, we found that they were indeed kidnappings that were underreported and they were kidnappings that were recorded as kidnappings that were in actuality not kidnappings.

Ted Simons: So the bottom line here is, and you said this earlier, there was no evidence of intentional misrepresentation of these numbers. Correct?

Michael Ryan: No, because at the time they -- the year they chose, there was no motivation to inflate the numbers for that year.

Ted Simons: Was there evidence of a cover up?

Michael Ryan: No. I don't think so. And the only thing I would say is that what disturbed me in this process, and I think the other panel members were concerned with too, and it says in -- it does say in our report that when the controversy arose, particularly from August of 2010 through the end of the year of 2010, the police department was being criticized both by officers and media that their numbers were wrong. And then when the number 358. And then when the office of the inspector general from the department of justice came in and said, yes, those numbers are not quite accurate, then it really embarrassed the police department. And my point is that they should have acted on those complaints sooner.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, did the errors and mistakes that you did find, do you think they justified the fallout from here? Including having to go through your investigation?

Michael Ryan: That's a good question. I think it did serve a purpose. It exposed the problems with the computerized system that they used for case reporting and case management. And that they need to update that system. The primary system they use is more than -- almost 25 years and needs improvement. Also, greater emphasis needs to be made on -- with line officers, supervisors, and detectives on accurately recording cases. What they are. Because those numbers will tell police leadership where resources should go. And if they're not accurate, they're sending resources in the wrong places, and the wrong areas.

Ted Simons: Last question before you go, whenever there's an independent panel, those who don't quite get what they want wonder about just how independent that panel was. Who was on this panel?

Michael Ryan: Karen Thorson, who is a former assistant city manager from Tucson, and she has a company here in town. She was our chair. We had a professor from ASU criminal -- from the criminal justice department, professor Mike White. We had Larry McCormack, a retired FBI agent, former agent in charge in Kansas City, great experience in the FBI. And we had retired Judge Cecil Patterson from the Arizona court of appeals who also had a long career in criminal justice issues.

Ted Simons: And the panel pretty much confident that what you found is what you found.

Michael Ryan: Absolutely. There was no dissent, no question about what our conclusions that we reached were substantiated.

Ted Simons: All right. Justice Ryan, good to see you.

Michael Ryan: Thank you.

Michael Ryan:Retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice and member of the Kidnapping Statistics Review Panel;

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