In the wake of the much-touted FBI Uniform Crime Rankings for violent crime, the way New Orleans police report rapes highlights the reasons why the FBI warns the media against using their numbers as benchmarks. A story appearing in Saturday's Times-Picayune says that New Orleans police classify more than half of all sexual assaults against women as noncriminal complaints.
Police, who have been touting a decline in rapes, say the share of noncriminal complaints reflects the difficulty officers face in coaxing rape victims to push forward with their complaints.
But former Orleans Parish sex crime prosecutor Cate Bartholomew says the frequent use of the alternative categoryreferred to as a "Signal 21" in NOPD parlanceis a problem, arguing that some of the cases she saw should have been categorized as sex crimes.
Bartholomew and some other experts say the alternative labeling of alleged sexual assault raises questions about the accuracy of the department's recent rape statistics, showing a sharp decrease from 2007 to 2008 in the number of rapes and attempted rapes reported to the FBI: 114 rapes in 2007, down to 72 rapes last year.
The FBI compiles its statistics from numbers reported by police. When the numbers police give them are not accurate, the FBI numbers are suspect as well. Although many media outlets will use the FBI data to sensationally rank cities or states as "most dangerous" or identifying "murder capitals" the FBI explicitly warns against such rankings, calling them misleading.
I tend to question governmental numbers anyway. Nevertheless, if this is true it is awful. Society has come along way in dealing with crimes against women; however, sadly it appears we still have a long way to go. I hope that all municipalities and state can accurately report stats so that we can effectively deal with this issue.