Cookeville police issue meaningless 1999 statistical report
20-page color document lacks reference points What is omitted makes content irrelevant
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - It has become City Manager Jim Shipley's signature -- the appearance of making information public while withholding anything valuable.
The most recent example of this horrible behavior is found in the Police Department's 1999 Crime & Activity Report: It drips with colorful charts and is endorsed by Chief Bob Terry, but a deeper look shows the gilded cage holds a dead bird.
Although we are told the document resulted from a "methodical process that included writing queries, creating macros, designing reports, and creating forms to obtain the data from the new CAD system," its contents do not allow specific comparisons of performance by Cookeville police officers from year to year. Nor does it provide information readily available that would allow an intelligent comparison of police performance among cities of similar size within Tennessee or other states. Rather, it is a colorful presentation of statistics that leave many questions unanswered. The presence of factual and mathematical errors also reduces from what can be distilled from the official report,
- On page five, the city government compares Cookeville's 102 reported violent crimes in 1999 to Tennessee's 38,832 violent crimes in 1998, stating that Cookeville had "only 0.26 percent of the state's violent crimes." This comparison is uninformative for two reasons:1. The comparison fails to take into account the number of people in Cookeville or the State of Tennessee. The figures would be meaningful if Cookeville had five percent of the population but only .26 percent of the crime. But without knowing what percent of the population of Tennessee lives in Cookeville the numbers cannot be put into a context.
2. The city compares the city's 1999 statistics to the state's 1998 statistics, which makes the percentage without value.
Also on page five, the city again uses its 1999 violent crime figures to graphically report that "Cookeville has only 0.01 percent of the nation's violent crime." The correct percentage, even with the incorrect year figures, would be .00006 of the nation's crime. The city, in its official report, inflated by 150 percent percent of crime the city has. Furthermore, this comparison, which lacks a common element other than the number of crimes in different years, relies on the FBI's 1998 Uniform Crime Report of 1.53 million violent crimes. However, even if the totals were from the same year, not only does Cookeville's report not state the number of persons in Cookeville or the United States, or break the statistics down to violent crimes per 100,000 population, the math is wrong. The city states that 3 percent of those cited for crimes are black, but does not mention the percent of blacks in the community.
The city manager should require the department to provide current, accurate, meaningful and comparable data as in annual report that informs, rather than distracts, the minds of those who want to know what the police do.