Guest Opinion: There is nothing uniform about the Uniform Crime Report
Recently (Feb. 3), there was an article posted on the website “24/7 Wall Street” concerning cities with rising crime rates from 2009-2013. This article was followed by one in USA Today. This article stated Medford’s violent crime rate had risen some 80.1 percent in the past five years. While I would agree that in the years from 2009 to 2013, Medford’s crime rate has risen, these numbers seemed both high and inaccurate.
There are a number of variables that at first blush were not taken into consideration with the article’s ranking of our city. The statistics used for this ranking concern the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes all law enforcement agencies in Jackson County that report crime statistics to the FBI — not just Medford.
As we looked deeper into this report we found 70 percent of all violent crime in our MSA was aggravated assaults. For reporting purposes, violent crimes include murder/manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. An audit of Medford’s 2013 aggravated assault cases found we (Medford Police) were too liberal in our coding, resulting in approximately 125 assault cases being changed back to “simple assaults.” That dropped the MSA violent crime rate by 30.8 percent which in turn changed the total violent crime rate for the five-year period to 49.6 percent, not the 80.4 percent reported in the article. While still not good, it is not as drastic as initially reported.
How other agencies have reported, or coded, their aggravated assaults, or how they interpreted the FBI’s definition is unknown to us. We can only assume there are many other variables that come into play when reporting crime. In Oregon in 2012, strangulation was increased to a felony assault in certain circumstances, which increased the total aggravated assault numbers. Before it was mandated to classify strangulation as an aggravated assault, it was classified based on level of injury to the victim, so it could have been reported as either aggravated assault or simple assault.
The lack of public safety resources in some regions can also have an impact on the ability to respond to calls for service, let alone file a correct report. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report site did not reflect any violent crime data from some Oregon jurisdictions in certain years.
Unfortunately, in Oregon, if you are the victim of an aggravated assault, or other person crime, the overwhelming odds are the suspect will be known to you. This drives our aggravated assault numbers, as the majority of these cases occur in domestic violence situations. This is an area of concern that we are addressing with more effort.
What really matters is an agency’s trust with the community it serves. This trust results in citizens reporting all crimes that they are a victim of, or have information on. This not only results in a true picture of the crimes occurring in our jurisdiction, but allows us the opportunity to have an impact by investigating/solving them. The Medford Police Department is diligent in both the taking of a crime report and reporting our year-end crime numbers to the state. The FBI receives the numbers from the state for its Uniform Crime Report.
Medford has not experienced a murder or non-negligent manslaughter in the last year and a half. That is great news! We have worked hard to investigate and take appropriate action in all domestic violence investigations. The follow-up work our Domestic Violence Advocate and our grant-funded Domestic Violence Officer do in domestic violence investigations is paying off. This is reducing the threat and providing safety for victims. Hopefully, our aggravated assault numbers will also begin to decrease.
There are a number of variables that drive violent crime in a community. Our serious drug problem combined with continued domestic/sexual violence occurrences are two we face frequently.
Even one violent crime is one too many. The Medford Police Department is committed to the investigation of every violent crime. Our promise to the citizens of Medford is to give each victim our best effort. We always have — and we always will.
While there may be nothing “uniform” about the Uniform Crime Report, there will be uniformity in how the Medford Police Department responds, reports, and investigates each violent crime. That is our promise to you.
Tim George is Medford's chief of police.