By Brian Maass & Mark Ackerman
DENVER (CBS4) – A CBS4 investigation has found the Denver Police Department inaccurately reported information to Denver City Council for two years about which ethnicities were being cited under the cities juvenile curfew ordinance.
Denver Police Deputy Chief Matt Murray acknowledged what the CBS4 probe uncovered saying, ”The data from a couple years ago was not correct. You brought it to our attention and we fixed it.”
Murray called what happened “human error.” From 2014 to 2016, the police department reported to city council white juveniles were receiving the vast majority of citations for curfew violations, when the reality was far more Hispanic youths were being cited for curfew violations.
“It was our error. It was a human error, and the ethnicity was not correctly tallied,” said Murray.
The cities juvenile curfew program prohibits young people 17 years old and younger from being out late at night. The curfew ordinance is in effect from 11 p.m. through 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from midnight until 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
If young people are caught in violation during certain times of the year, they can be cited and transported to the Denver Juvenile Services Center, and their parents are notified.
The program dates back to 1994.
”It’s about protecting these kids and making sure they don’t get into trouble or become victims,” said Murray. He says officers will frequently interact with violators and try to “get them on the right path.”
As part of the program, police and the City Attorneys office are required to provide reports twice a year to Denver City Council breaking down the ethnicities of the young people who are contacted and cited so city council can make informed public policy decisions.
But for 2014 through 2016, the police numbers supplied to city council were dramatically off.
For example, in the first half of 2016, the police department erroneously reported that white juveniles were cited nearly 82 percent of the time while Hispanics were cited 27.1 percent of the time. CBS4 found the true numbers were Hispanics at 64.3 percent and whites at 19 percent.
In late 2016, police reported Hispanics received 27.1 percent of the citations and whites received 60 percent. CBS4 found those numbers were backwards, and Hispanics actually received 60 percent of the citations and whites received 22 percent of the citations.
The Denver Police Department is now correcting those reports.
INTERACTIVE: Click on the map to see where teens in Denver are getting curfew citations.
“We did not know this until you brought it to our attention,” said Murray. “We have millions of records, 1,500 officers filling out reports and not everything is going to get entered accurately.”
The Deputy Chief explained that an analyst in the departments Data Analysis Unit was failing to complete the process appropriately, leading to the faulty information.
Denise Maes, public policy director for the ACLU in Denver, said what CBS4 turned up is “very troubling. It raises some very troubling credibility issues. We often say the data doesn’t lie. Here the data clearly was lying.”
She said the concept of reporting data like this to city council is to make sure the curfew program is being implemented fairly and justly. But she said “not giving the proper data to policy makers, that’s a serious problem. There clearly was a significant human error here.”
She said she believes an honest mistake was made, but wondered why so many Hispanic youths are getting curfew violations.
“I see a problem. That’s a big red flag.”
Murray told CBS4 the program is not specifically targeting Hispanic youths, even though the numbers are lopsided with Hispanic young people consistently getting the majority of citations.
“There are areas of town where more kids tend to hang out and in places that are more dangerous or more susceptible to crime, and they are more likely to get contacted,” he said. “We are not targeting Hispanic kids, there’s no effort to make sure Hispanic kids get citations for curfew. The point is to get them out of harms way so they are not in trouble and not a victim. When you see a lot of juveniles in one area, that’s where we are going to be.”
The data flub is not an isolated event. Denver police acknowledged earlier this year that 699 police reports from 2016 and 2017 were incorrectly downgraded in a way that made them not count in department crime statistics, when they should have been.
Those reports were reclassified after the department discovered the issue and an internal affairs investigation is underway into why criminal reports were incorrectly downgraded.
CBS4 has reported that the changed reports emanated primarily from District One and District Three.
Murray says there is no connection between that reporting problem and the juvenile citation errors.
“It’s not a systemic problem. We want good data, and we apologize when we are wrong and in this case we were wrong, but this is not systemic.”
Following the CBS4 investigation, from 2014 to 2016, the department added 380 curfew violations for Hispanics, added 23 citations for African-American young people and subtracted 520 curfew citations listed as going to white juveniles.
Nicholas Mitchell, Denver’s Independent Monitor commended DPD for revising their reports.
“Accurate data is essential to enhancing public trust”, wrote Mitchell. ”Curfew citations can be an entry point into the juvenile justice system, and I believe that the revised data should prompt a broader discussion about the curfew program, including where and how the curfew ordinance is being enforced in Denver.”