December 9, 2008 - 5:15 AM
Buffalo police have yet to make good on Mayor Byron Brown's pledge to restore all the information they stripped out of felony crime and arrest reports earlier this year.
I found that out working the police beat Saturday night. In reading the reports, I was struck at how incomplete many of them were. More so than they have been in the past couple of months.
I wound up doing a tally of the reports filed Friday and Saturday, through about 9:30 p.m.
There were 14 arrest reports filed; only three of them included both the addresses and DOBs (date of birth) of those arrested. Eight of the 14 included neither.
That's a problem when you're trying to write a story. Sometimes the readers want to know where the bad guys live.
Of the 44 felony crime incident reports, none had what I consider to be complete information.
Police, true to the mayor's word, have again included the location of the crime. But it gets sketchy after that.
Eighteen of the 44 reports did not list the address of the crime victims and none of the reports included their date of birth. We usually don't include the specific address or age of crime victims, but often the information is relevant, especially as we fact-check the reports for accuracy.
And sometimes the info is newsworthy.
Was the rape victim 40, or 14, or 84? We'd probably want to report the age, but obviously not the name, if the victim was young or old.
Were the burglary victims elderly people? That might be noteworthy if we're talking a string of home invasions.
I checked with a couple of our police reporters who told me the problem started to get worse again a couple of weeks ago. I know the records were generally more complete the last time I worked the police beat about three weeks ago.
What's going on?
Mike DeGeorge, spokesman for the department, denied any shenanigans.
"There is no policy decision to withhold anything," he said.
On one hand, he said, "all pertinent information is supposed to be included in the reports."
But he cautioned "these are initial reports, not official reports. There is always going to be a certain amount of incompleteness."
A certain amount of incompleteness, I can live with. But not a single DOB for 44 crime victims, or missing address on more than one-third of them?
I have a hard time believing the police officers who compile the original reports aren't getting the basics, such as the addresses and DOBs of victims. I'm no cop, but I've got to believe that is Police 101 kind of work.
As for arrest reports, well, it's all in the paperwork the clerks who enter the reports work from.
To quote Yogi Berra, this is "deja vu all over again."
You may remember the brouhaha August 5 when I first reported the department's efforts to withhold information to the press and public. Basic information that was usually contained in crime reports - including the address of the crime scene and the addresses and ages/DOB of the perpetrators and victims - was no longer being routinely entered into reports made available to the press through a computer terminal in police HQ.
Police brass, in a snit over some of our reporting, told staff to no longer include the information in the reports they prepared.
Brown, facing a firestorm of public criticism, relented several days after the story broke and promised Buffalo News Editor Margaret Sullivan the police department would restore the information. (The mayor is pictured above with Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson and Deputy Commissioner Daniel Derenda.)
The department was slow to comply, however, and it wasn't until a face-to-face meeting in October between Sullivan and Brown - along with me and Peter Cutler, the mayor's press aide - that reports began to include all the information they used it. Not that they were always complete, but close enough. We're not looking for perfection, just a good-faith effort.
I filed a Freedom of Information request with the police department this morning in an effort to obtain any written communication sent to the report technicians who enter the reports. We'll see what that shows. Or how long the police department takes to respond.
My hunch is that police brass told the report technicians to withhold DOBs and there's a lot of inconsistency among the RTs in terms of what they enter. Quality control? You've got to be kidding me.
What this means to you, readers, is that the police are making it difficult to report when home invasions victimize old people or rapists attack young girls. Among other crimes and misdemeanors.