Analysts: Chief's crime data need time

Police Chief Rodney Monroe on Wednesday stood by his assertion that his department's crime-fighting tactics are the primary factors in a reported drop in crime over the past two months.

But criminologists warned against jumping to such a pointed conclusion.

They said analysts usually need at least six months of data to determine why crime drops or rises, and even then pinpointing the reasons is tricky.

“Conclusions like that need to be interpreted with caution,” said Angela Gover, a criminologist and associate professor of public affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. “Kudos to him, and I don't blame him for reporting those stats. You just kind of have to be careful.”

On Tuesday, Monroe told Charlotte City Council members that crime had dropped significantly over July and August after a trend of rising crime since February.

In those two months, he said, crime dropped in 11 of the city's 13 patrol divisions, and crime over July and August was 16 percent lower than in the same months last year. Monroe became the Charlotte-Mecklenburg chief June 16.

On Wednesday, police declined to release detailed, division-by-division statistics, which will be available later this month. The department did release the unofficial, preliminary numbers Monroe cited before the council on Tuesday.

They show significant crime drops in all but the Hickory Grove and South divisions compared with July and August 2007. They also show that the drop last month compared with August 2007 was mostly due to a 36-percent drop in larceny from auto.

Monroe was credited for sharp drops in crime in his previous job in Richmond, Va., and has instituted many of the same practices in Charlotte.

His crime-fighting philosophy is based on aggressive patrolling. He's restructured the department to try to meet that goal, and 89 officers will move Saturday from specialty units to patrol divisions. He's also begun requiring division commanders to monitor trends based on crime statistics and develop plans based on those trends. Commanders must present their plans and review statistics with department brass every month.

“We're going through a very methodical monitoring process to make sure we're doing what we ought to be doing,” Monroe said Wednesday. “When you pay attention and focus on problems in the neighborhoods, you can have a positive impact.”

But crime rates are subject to plenty of forces besides police: the economy, availability of housing, even weather.

The numbers are encouraging after this year's spring spike in crime, but it will take more than two months to determine real trends, said Vivian Lord, chair of UNC Charlotte's criminal justice department.

“Who knows? It may be just a stabilizing of the numbers,” Lord said.

“If I were the chief, I would absolutely take credit for this,” she said. “But it's hard to look at those numbers and say that what the police are doing is responsible for those sharp declines.”