Saturday, July 31, 2010

Company with no past clients hired to audit Nashville police stats

Firm will review police stats for free

By Brian Haas • THE TENNESSEAN • July 31, 2010

Wanted: one public safety consultant firm to analyze and critique Metro police crime statistics policies.

No experience necessary.

In response to Mayor Karl Dean's request in May for an audit of police crime statistics, Metro auditors have hired a California-based company with no prior clients to help figure out if the department has been skewing local crime statistics.

The company, Elite Performance Auditing Consultants, has agreed to look at police policies and practices for free (aside from travel expenses) in return for a glowing letter of recommendation by Metro afterward. The city also hired a Vanderbilt University sociology professor for as much as $7,500 to analyze crime classification.

The arrangement allows the city to keep costs of the audit just under $10,000, but raises questions about how serious and thorough the inquiry will be.

"At face value it wouldn't seem like they're very serious about it," said Councilman Michael Craddock, who sits on the Public Safety Committee. "If that's all they're spending and they're hiring a company with no experience that's doing it free, well gee whiz."

Dean's office said the mayor has no say in the hiring or administration of audits. Metro Auditor Mark Swann is independent of the administration.

"Questions about the audit process are for Mr. Swann to answer, as his office is completely independent from the rest of Metro government," spokeswoman Janel Lacy said.

Swann defended hiring the California company on the cheap.

"They have connections to numerous police departments through the International Law Enforcement Auditors Association," he said. He added that the company's president has done two crime audits for the Los Angeles Police Department and has other law enforcement experience.

"I believe they will be an excellent resource for benchmarking reporting methodologies and general police culture concerns," Swann said.

Company officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Dean ordered the audit after questions intensified about the veracity of the city's crime statistics. Swann said he expects it to be completed by this fall.

VU lecturer hired

Swann's office also is hiring MaryAltani Karpos, a senior lecturer in Vanderbilt's sociology department, who will be paid up to $7,500 for 30 hours of work. She's expected to be tasked with making sure Metro police have been properly classifying crimes.

Karpos is known in academic circles for her work examining the disparity between police rape statistics and the number of rapes reported by victims. Earlier this year, she conducted a study for the Tennessee Department of Correction on how often convicts re-offend after being released.

Karpos said that she was unable to comment on the audit, per the contract.

"She'll be looking at crime reports and saying, 'Does the crime description fit the reported crime?' " Swann said.

There have been questions about Metro's police statistics for years. At a 2009 police budget hearing, Councilman Jim Gotto told then-Police Chief Ronal Serpas that he thought an audit might be a good idea. Serpas at the time appeared angry and accused Gotto of calling police officers liars. The department says it welcomes the upcoming audit.

On Friday, Gotto said he's pleased city auditors are making progress. He said he is confident the audit will answer his questions and he isn't concerned about the California firm. Metro will pay the company up to $2,450 for travel expenses.

"When you say that they're former LAPD auditors, then I think we're probably fine," he said. "It sounds to me like they have the credentials to be able to do the work."

Elite Performance Auditing Consultants was formed in April 2009, according to California business records, but it told Metro it had never had any clients. The company comprises mostly former Los Angeles Police Department auditors, according to employee biographies. It bid to audit the police department in Las Cruces, N.M., earlier this year but didn't get the contract.

Craddock said he wouldn't have hired a company that had no previous clients if he were serious about a full audit.

"This is a very serious situation because the people in this city need to know the true picture of crime," Craddock said.

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