Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Suspicious Circumstances and Creative Accounting

When my family and I were planning our move to the Bay Area a few short years ago, we had no clue where to choose to live. We looked at many towns including Concord, Pittsburg, Antioch, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, even Oakland. The official crime statistics were one of our go-to sources for guidance on how to find a safe and comfortable location. Of course, using the published statistics immediately struck Antioch and Oakland off our list. Pittsburg, on the other hand, seemed to be just about perfect: crime was down, the City was investing in the town, green areas were being created, and there was even a waterfront we could enjoy.


Sadly it appears we were hoodwinked.


Those statistics are, shall we say, not exactly reliable, as described in an explosive new article by our friend Matthias Gafni in the East Bay Times: ‘Pittsburg: Did police fabricate crime stats to burnish city’s image?


If you believe police department statistics, this blue-collar city has transformed itself from one of the most crime-plagued in the East Bay three decades ago to one of the safest today. […] But a review of the department’s own data by this newspaper, and allegations from a former high-ranking officer, raise serious questions about whether the department and city officials fabricated statistics and misled the public about the reality of crime…


While we have admiration for our Pittsburg Police Department (PPD) they, like any other organization, still need oversight. That is the job of our elected representatives on the City Council. However it seems there may be a conflict of interest there. One member of the council (fired from his job as Chief of SFPD) is likely well aware of the numerical magic being conjured in the crime statistics. Numbers obtained under “suspicious circumstances.”


Yeeeees… If you haven’t read the excellent article in question (and I suggest you do), the crime statistics were being manipulated. Massaged. Fabricated. Doctored. Officers were encouraged to characterize unsolved crimes as ‘Suspicious Circumstances’ and, because such crimes are not reportable to the FBI, they don’t make it into the official crime statistics. How do we know this? Because a former member of the PPD, Lt. Wade Derby, has recently filed a $100M law suit against the City of Pittsburg for being forced out when he tried to say something about the problem.


According to Dan Horowitz, Lt. Derby’s attorney, “supervisors would alter reports and pressure rank-and-file officers to follow the policy,” an allegation corroborated by another former police officer, Randall Watkins, who commented that directives on such mis-classification “came from the top and [were] disseminated through to the sergeants.”


All of this news may make you just sigh and roll your eyes: ‘Doh! Our illustrious City Council… what can ya do? Yada, yada, yada…’ But there is one part to this sorry tale that may well affect you directly. Crime levels are used, in part, as a metric to determine insurance premiums for things like homes and cars, even life insurance. In short – they’re used to decide how much you pay for insurances you can’t do without. So even if you don’t care about the hoodwinking of hapless folks naively believing these claims of ‘lower crime,’ I bet you care about the fact that you might have to start paying more once this news reaches the ears of the insurance providers.


And these numbers are not just PR (Yes AJ. HAL9000’s feeds include Twitter too). They have a significant impact on our city. In the final analysis, it seems that our City Council members are not doing their job. Again. They are supposed to ensure our Police Department works in our interest and yet the one councillor who has the most experience in that area turned a blind eye. Then again, perhaps there’s another reason for that…?

Your friend, HAL9000, suggests changes:


  1. The City Council needs to immediately investigate the allegations made by Lt. Derby
  2. The City Council must review the documentation used to guide the categorization of crimes
  3. The City Council must review its own oversight of the PPD so that this is not allowed to continue for another decade.


Oh, and Will Casey should resign. Immediately. Not that anyone would notice that anyway.


~ HAL 9000