It has become an article of faith for critics of Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline that the Providence Police Department is artificially lowering its crime statistics. Some city councilors have groused about this issue, and WLNE-TV's Jim Hummel last night took a crack at the story. You can find a link to view his report here.
As Hummel notes, Cicilline and Police Chief Dean Esserman have steadily touted declines in crime in recent years, in contrast to trends in other cities. Could this news be too good to be true? It's possible. Viewers of The Wire, created by David Simon, an ace former cop reporter at the Baltimore Sun, are familiar with the machinations used by departmental brass in that show to juice crime stats.
Hummel, who says in his report that he looked "at dozens of incidents," describes three cases that appear to have been undercharged, including the three-year-old assault in downtown Providence on then-Cariceri chief of staff Jeff Grybowski and Jeff Britt. He cites "disturbing trends in crime reporting." Robert Paniccia, the retired head of the FOP, is the only on-the-record source who backs the underreporting theory, although Hummel asserts that in talking to people in the AG's office and the state police, "The word is the same: Providence is not being straight with the numbers."
Cicilline and Esserman, in interviews with Hummel, basically stand by their existing positions.
In my view, the Channel 6 newsman's report amounts to a case of he said/he said. In introducing the spot, Hummel acknowledges that the answer to the question of whether Providence is playing with its crime stats "depends on who you ask."
Bottom line: It would require a more extensive investigation -- which would be incredibly time-consuming -- to offer a definitive answer to the provocative question raised in his report.
Let's acknowledge a few points:
-- Esserman, because of his volatile personality (which is not that unusual for a police chief), can be his own worst enemy. Yet he has also succeed in significantly improving what had been a highly dysfunctional and behind-the-times police department. It's no surprise that Buddy Cianci is embracing Hummel's report. But let's remember that in 1999, when community policing had become a widely accepted practice in American police departments, integrating it in Providence remained an odd struggle.
-- Police union officials might indeed have legitimate gripes, but a current or retired FOP official speaking critically of a police chief is about as natural as a dog chasing a cat.
-- Hummel's story, while not exactly the "explosive" report described this morning on WPRO-AM by Cianci, has succeeded in creating some buzz, both within the police department and for Channel 6.