Yes, they are too often and sadly, linked, as this story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

An excerpt.

“Milwaukee police record clerks have routinely changed computer codes by hand in a way that removes serious assaults from the city’s violent crime rate, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.

“This is done even when the department’s computer system flags the incidents as cases where an aggravated assault classification is warranted because a dangerous weapon was used.

“Instead of correcting the report to put the incident in the proper crime category, in hundreds of cases clerks or supervisors changed the weapon listing to generic codes that avoided triggering additional scrutiny by state and FBI crime analysts.

“That allowed the incidents to be reported as simple assaults, a lesser classification that is not part of the city’s violent crime rate, which Police Chief Edward Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett have touted as dropping for four consecutive years.

“While Flynn has blamed computer issues for more than 500 cases of misreported aggravated assaults identified by a Journal Sentinel investigation in May, a review of the process shows any computer shortcomings are exacerbated by clerks who department officials now acknowledge handled cases incorrectly.

“It is unclear how long the incorrect changing of weapon codes has gone on, how often cases flagged as errors are properly revised and how clerks were trained or instructed to handle them.

“It defies belief that this problem could be the result of ‘computer error’ or random mistakes by clerks,” said Samuel Walker, criminology professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “Why are the errors so concentrated in one crime category and the mistakes all in the same direction?”

“Flynn prides himself on having accurate data to use in making crime-fighting decisions, such as where officers are deployed.

“But the Journal Sentinel’s review of the system shows it allows errors to be entered at the onset and crimes downgraded easily by a small group of clerks or supervisors with the ability to later override what is entered. That provides a distorted view of crime trends.

“Department officials say there is no deliberate attempt to lower violent crime numbers and that it’s simply a case of record clerks not being properly trained.

“In some cases it’s the result of a person not having the training needed to understand the consequences of making certain changes,” said Deputy Inspector William Jessup, who is in charge of the department’s Office of Management, Analysis and Planning. “In other cases, it’s simply human error.”

Could have been fixed

“Jessup said the clerks should have – and could have just as easily – changed the crime code field to put the incidents in the correct category of aggravated assault.

“He could not say how often clerks had improperly changed weapon codes, but the Journal Sentinel identified hundreds of cases since 2009 where that occurred.”