Baltimore police are investigating the possibility that they under-reported rapes in the city last year, according to sources familiar with an internal review ordered by Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.
The review preliminarily found that the city might have under-reported the crime by as much as 32 percent, or by about 85 rapes, the sources said. Baltimore police reported to the FBI that there were 178 rapes in the city last year.
Clark said in an interview that the review was only half complete, and he believed that the final number would probably not be much higher than what police reported to the FBI, which records and publishes national crime statistics.
"I am confident that there is not going to be any type of dramatic change to the final numbers," Clark said.
Clark and other police officials did not dispute the numbers provided by sources. They said it was still too early to discuss any findings. The review delved into all reported crimes, officials said.
"The report was just, very, actually it was skeletal," said Clark, who joined the force in February. "It was preliminary. I need more information before we justify moving in one direction."
Clark refused to release a copy of the internal review, which was first requested by The Sun on July 8.
In the wake of the preliminary review, investigators are questioning victims and will also interview detectives about the cases, Clark said.
Police officials said the potential under-reporting stemmed from detectives investigating rape allegations and later ruling that no crime occurred.
In some instances, the detectives might have incorrectly determined that a lesser offense had been committed and reported that type of crime to the FBI but not a rape, the sources said.
Clark expressed confidence that the cases had been thoroughly investigated.
He said the review was a routine investigation and he hopes to do more of them to ensure that his "strategies, the focused strategies, are not wasted."
Experts who have extensively studied crime statistics said that the department's possible under-reporting of rapes could raise serious questions about the city's ability to track crime statistics.
Ralph B. Taylor, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of Breaking Away from Broken Windows, a book about crime-fighting strategies in Baltimore, said the numbers were disturbing.
"That is clearly a concern," Taylor said. "This is troubling. ... What one would hope would be that in a situation like this, the Police Department with the support of the administration and citizen watchdog groups would undertake a deeper study."
Taylor also raised an issue about statistics showing that the number of calls from residents reporting rapes has steadily increased since 2000 - even as the number reported to the FBI has dropped substantially.
Between 2000 and 2002, according to city police, the number of calls to report rapes increased from 670 to 808. But the number of confirmed rapes reported by police to the FBI decreased - from 366 in 2000 to 178 last year, a 51 percent reduction.
"If you have a trend where the calls for service are going up but the determination of cases is going down, that in and of itself would merit further looking into the data," Taylor said. "If you have a decline in calls for service, and a decline in cases, the trends match. If you have one trend going in the opposite direction, you want to know what is going on."
The review is not the first launched into the validity of the city's crime statistics.
Clark's boss, Mayor Martin O'Malley, hammered the administration of Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier about the accuracy of his crime numbers during the late 1990s, when O'Malley was a City Council member.
In 2000, O'Malley launched an audit of the previous year's crime statistics. The review eventually boosted crime totals in 1999 by 14.5 percent, from 66,015 to 75,587.
Violent crime - which includes homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults - rose by 23 percent, from 15,251 to 18,735, after the audit.
O'Malley and former Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, who left the force in December to join the Maryland State Police as superintendent, have repeatedly trumpeted a 26 percent reduction in violent crime from 1999 through 2002.
Without the 1999 audit's corrections, however, the city's violent crime decrease would be about 10 percent.