Did Phoenix Police Inflate Kidnap Reports to Gain Stimulus Money?

Officer claims crime stats were pumped up to 'perpetuate' need for federal cash.

Aug. 17, 2010 — -- A Phoenix police officer claims his superiors inflated kidnap crime statistics "to meet agendas and perpetuate the idea" that the city needed millions of dollars in federal grant money to deal with the crime threat.

Phoenix police officials Tuesday strongly denied the allegations they fudged the figures. "We are confident in the numbers we have provided over the years that Phoenix had made home invasions and kidnappings a priority," said Chuck Miiller, commander of the Phoenix police department public affairs bureau.

In a memo sent to the Phoenix city manager on Aug. 16, Sgt. Phillip Roberts alleged "governmental corruption in falsifying Phoenix police kidnapping statistics."

The allegation follows widespread news coverage over the last two years of a reported wave of kidnappings and home invasions that police said were often connected to Mexican drug organizations.

In an interview with ABC News for a report broadcast in February 2009, Sgt. Roberts cited the same kidnapping figures he now disputes.

Police claimed Phoenix had more kidnappings in 2007 and 2008 than any American city and ABC News and other news organizations called it the country's "kidnap capital."

In testimony before the United States Senate in April 2009, Phoenix public safety manager Jack Harris testified there were 357 reported kidnappings in 2007 and 368 reported kidnappings in 2008.

"We need federal funding so that we can staff the squads and teams to deal with these violent and deadly crimes," Harris said in testimony submitted to the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

The police spokesman, Commander Miiller, said the kidnap numbers were prepared by the department's crime analysis and research unit.

Asked about Sgt. Roberts' memo, Miiller said, "Past allegations from this same employee have been unfounded and unsubstantiated."

The police spokesman, Commander Miiller, said the kidnap numbers were prepared by the department's Crime Analysis and Research Unit, "which follows strict guidelines for reporting crimes."

"I have complete confidence in the statistical accuracy," said Miiller, "and welcome community requests for our public records so individuals can continue to make informed opinions. The Phoenix Police Department has provided, and will continue to provide, accurate statistics concerning home invasions, kidnappings or any requested crime information."

Sgt. Roberts' complaint came after he had been removed from the department's special kidnapping squad, according to police officials. Roberts says he was being punished for raising the issue.

In March 2009, he again used the figures in telling Fox News' Sean Hannity, "These are extortion-related kidnappings where people are getting abducted off the street."

Since then, Sgt. Roberts said, he began to have doubts about the accuracy of the numbers, which he said were initially inflated because of procedural errors and duplicate reports.

In his memo to the city manager, Sgt. Roberts said he alerted his superior officers to his concerns one year ago, in August 2009, but he was ignored.

"Despite this understanding of how kidnapping statistics were being falsely inflated," he wrote in the memo, "others would later push and tout these numbers to the news media and eventually to the United States Congress."

Phoenix police said the initial kidnap statistics for 2007 and 2008 have since been slight revised downward based on further case information. The 2007 number was reduced from 357 to 343 and the 2008 number was reduced from 368 to 358.

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