LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Dallas police chief finalists differ on how to count crime


Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert White said he believes in strict adherence to the UCR guidelines. "We have to go by the rules of UCR," he said. "We go by the letter of the definition."


The first word from Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle that he planned to retire this month came amid a Dallas Morning News investigation last year that questioned whether his department undercounts the crimes.

For the most part, Kunkle stands by his statistical bookkeeping, and City Manager Mary Suhm stands by him. But the next chief will have to decide how the department collects statistics going forward.

Asked about crime counting, the three out-of-town finalists for the job expressed viewpoints that differ substantially from Kunkle's, while the three internal candidates' largely mirrored the position of their chief, who plans to retire at month's end.

The News asked each of the candidates if a department should follow federal guidelines when classifying crimes for reporting to the federal Uniform Crime Reporting program. For years, Kunkle said the department needed to follow the UCR guidelines closely, and he gave that as his rationale for making many changes in how the department collects crime statistics.

But after The News' stories showed that the department deviates from the UCR guidelines, Kunkle said those guidelines should be treated more as suggestions than as rules.

The three external candidates for chief resemble the old Kunkle much more than the new Kunkle.

Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert White said he believes in strict adherence to the UCR guidelines. "We have to go by the rules of UCR," he said. "We go by the letter of the definition."

Rob Davis, chief in San Jose, Calif., agreed. "I believe it is important to follow the guidelines so we can have a true benchmark of how we are doing when compared to other cities," he said in an e-mail, "which then allows us to compare and contrast our policies and procedures with others to see if we can learn from 'best practices'.

Austin's police chief, Art Acevedo, said his department follows the guidelines, though his view differs from Davis'.

"We use the UCR guidelines here," Acevedo said. "With that said, I'm not going to sit there and criticize Kunkle, because I really don't think the people in Dallas really care about how we stack up against the rest of the country."

What's more important, Acevedo said, is that the city use consistent methods from year to year so trends can be seen.

In truth, Dallas officials care very much how the city stacks up against the rest of the country. For years, Dallas held the distinction of having the highest crime rate among U.S. cities with more than 1 million people. Last year, Dallas fell to the No. 2 spot. And the City Council has made it a primary goal to get out of the top five by next year.

The list is compiled by the FBI and depends on numbers provided by local police departments. The UCR guidelines dictate how departments throughout the nation should classify crimes to arrive at their numbers. The idea is to have a standardized, nationwide classification system independent of varying state penal codes.

The federal government uses the data to figure how much grant money local police receive. Had Dallas not participated in the UCR program in recent years, the city would not have been eligible for about $7 million allocated as part of last year's federal stimulus package.

Criminologists, city managers and others also rely on the data. Acknowledging the system's shortcomings, the FBI discourages comparing one place to another based on raw statistics. But many people do.

The three internal candidates for police chief each said the guidelines should be followed, but they advocated a more flexible approach - much as Kunkle does.

"If the department is going to participate in UCR, then yeah, as closely as possible, follow the UCR guidelines," Assistant Chief Floyd Simpson said. "However, that's not to mean that those guidelines cannot be interpreted in a manner that the chief of that department sees fit."

Assistant Chief Daniel Garcia similarly allowed for flexibility. He has asserted, as Kunkle does, that a "guideline" is a very different animal than a "rule."

"They're called guidelines for a reason; they're not rules," Garcia said in January. "If the UCR was that adamant about it, they would call them rules."

"I recognize the fact that they are guidelines," Garcia said last month. "I believe we should try to follow them as closely as possible. But I firmly believe that our officers are the first leg of an investigation and they have a responsibility to determine whether an offense took place or not, and that determination is based on facts."

Of all the candidates, First Assistant Chief David Brown, Kunkle's second in command, takes a stance that perhaps most closely mirrors that of his boss. In 2007, Brown directly supervised the lieutenant who made key changes in how the department collects aggravated-assault statistics. The changes, which deviate from UCR guidelines, significantly lowered the city's violent crime numbers.

Brown said while although the department may not always follow UCR guidelines, neither do police in other cities. He said The News' findings unfairly single out Dallas police, while it's the UCR system that needs fixing.

"I challenge you to pull the same category of reports from other major cities for the same week you pulled ours," he said in an e-mail.

Suhm was noncommittal about how the candidates' views on crime reporting might play into her choice of a new chief.

"There are lots of processes and procedures that one leader puts into place and another leader examines as they come in, and I suspect that might be something that I would hear from them that they would examine," Suhm said. "But there are lots of processes like that."