By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – CBS4 has learned that approximately 1,000 Denver Police Department crime reports from the last several years are being reviewed and closely scrutinized after they were downgraded in a way that essentially removed them from official reporting requirements and significantly improved department crime statistics.
Multiple police sources familiar with the internal probe confirmed to CBS4 that the reports, which came primarily from District One in northwest Denver and District Three in southeast Denver, were downgraded from the way they were initially reported as criminal offense reports, to “letter to detective.”
That way, the original crime reports would not be reported to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and would not appear in any official state or national statistical totals .
“They are not reported to the CBI as a crime stat,” said Denver Deputy Police Chief Matt Murray, referring to the way the cases were re-classified to letter status.
Murray told CBS4 a full-blown internal investigation was launched Monday into the way the crime reports had been downgraded.
“The actions of certain individuals need to be investigated from an internal affairs standpoint and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Murray said about one percent of Denver crimes from 2017 are being called into question and reviewed to see if the way they were downgraded was appropriate.
“We have an investigation to look at whether policy or law violations did or did not occur.”
He said the department’s data analysis unit discovered “anomalies” during a 2017 year-end review, prompting Chief Robert White to order an audit which was upgraded to an internal affairs investigation on Monday.
On Jan. 12, the Denver Police Department released notice that the data analysis unit had noticed “some anomalies in how cases were being classified” during an end of year crime review, triggering an “in- depth audit of the relevant crime statistics city – wide.”
At the time White said, “After seeing the initial anomalies I was not comfortable with the integrity of the data, and I have ordered a thorough audit.”
Several DPD sources said the type of cases that were reclassified ranged from property crimes to serious crimes like assaults and other violent crimes against citizens.
Supervisory officers in both district one and district three are being queried about why so many crimes were downgraded to a status that would essentially make them invisible, and present a more positive picture of crime in Denver.
Murray said there was no immediate reason to believe anyone intentionally manipulated cases and said what occurred could be a simple “training issue.”
Jim Ponzi isn’t so sure about that. He was a Denver police officer for 35 years, retiring in 2008 as a Lieutenant. He said he “absolutely” saw cases intentionally misclassified during his career to buff up the department’s crime statistics.
“You see a burglary downgraded to a theft because a burglary is a felony and a theft is a misdemeanor”, said Ponzi.
Ponzi is now chairman of the criminology department at Regis University.
He said a police department’s crime statistics directly impact promotions and demotions along with grants and funding.
“If you are looking at it from a public perspective, I would think it would be very serious. Your credibility would immediately come into question with the citizenry you serve.”
Ponzi said if someone did intentionally “pencil whip” crime statistics, that could give the public a false sense of security.
Murray told CBS4 there was no timeline on how long the department’s internal affairs investigation might take.