It is plausible that some overworked desk sergeant or lieutenant in a police station near you is responsible for compiling the Uniform Crime Report that gets fed to the Illinois State Police and then on to the FBI. It is also plausible that making those reports is not at the top of that person’s to-do list.
Here’s why it should not only be at the top of the list, but viewed with the potential to create less work for all police agencies and make life better for those whom officers are sworn to serve and protect.
The Associated Press recently reported on hate crimes and the spotty pattern of reporting, with 17 percent of departments failing to report them. A local look showed 75 percent of Illinois police agencies failed to report at least once, and more than one in five failed to report at all, from 2009 through 2014.
Belleville Police said they did report in 2009, 2011 and 2014, but the feds never got the stats. The 2014 numbers were late, which may explain why all three years were missing for Belleville.
It’s not just hate crimes, either. Madison Police are in the midst of a double shooting in which one of the victims died, but don’t look for any recent crime stats if you want some perspective on the safety of the city’s 3,868 residents. Illinois State Police crime reports have nothing listed for Madison Police since 2011, when the city had one murder.
Madison Police Chief Christopher Burns said the stats are not mandatory, and that a prior chief ended Madison’s participation. He said he just hadn’t thought about picking up the program again.
Smaller departments, such as Dupo, Smithton and Marine, are regular reporters. Will, as opposed to manpower, seems to be important.
When News-Democrat reporters looked at the failure to prosecute rapes in Southern Illinois, they relied heavily on the crime reports. They also drove to 32 counties to count through court records so they could reliably report how often prosecutors failed to prosecute sex crimes.
Their ability to say 70 percent of reported sexual felonies were not prosecuted led to changes at the state level, where Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan pushed for prosecutors to focus on the issue, for improved police training and for more money for state crime labs to process sex crimes. It also led St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly to tackle the county’s 82 percent prosecution fail rate with a specialized department to work on the issue.
Unless the individual departments are doing the mundane, routine crime counting and reporting, the big picture doesn’t emerge. Without knowledge of the patterns, money and effort and political will are not expended to fix them.
Police agencies should look at it this way: Find time to tally the numbers because your community is counting on you.