Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm told the City Council last night that he and Mayor Martin O'Malley would welcome an "unbiased" audit of crime reports -- if the review was statewide and performed by a politically neutral organization.
"Bring it on," Hamm said at his performance review before the council. "But let's do everybody's [statistics] to take politics out of it."
The police commissioner's defiance of critics follows weeks of intense political scrutiny of O'Malley's claim that Baltimore has led all other big cities in the nation in violent crime reduction during his tenure.
While Hamm and O'Malley continue to say that a recently commissioned state government audit of Baltimore's crime reports is politically motivated, neither city leader could suggest what outside agency might meet their standards for an independent review.
"If these numbers aren't accurate, we need to know, and we need to correct them," Ehrlich said in an interview in Annapolis, adding that the FBI would be the best agency to conduct such a review.
Last night, Hamm assured council members not only that the city's crime reports not are accurate but that preliminary statistics show that total crime in 2005 was at the lowest level in over three decades.
O'Malley has said that violent crime -- counted as homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults -- declined nearly 40 percent from 1999 to 2004.
Two weeks ago, however, The Sun detailed concerns about those statistics from criminologists, including the city's one-time FBI consultant. After O'Malley was elected mayor, he commissioned an audit of crime statistics for 1999, the last year of the previous administration.
The audit found and corrected thousands of mistakes. As a result, the city revised the violent crime rate in 1999 by 22 percent -- transforming the year from that decade's safest into one of the worst in two decades.
Criminologists said it is unfair to compare 1999's audited data to 2004 statistics that have not undergone the same one-year scrutiny. O'Malley has said the 1999 audit established more accurate and thorough crime reporting techniques that guarantee a near-perfect process -- providing for continuing, though smaller, audits that catch and correct mistakes.
When compared to pre-audited statistics from 1999, Baltimore's violent crime through 2004 is down 23 percent -- making it the nation's sixth-largest reduction among big cities.
As O'Malley runs for governor, his Democratic rival, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, has seized on the possible discrepancy. Duncan has gone so far as to say the mayor has "cooked the books."
Ehrlich said yesterday that he is concerned with the 1999 audit.
"What occurred in 1999? Did this artificial inflation occur, and if so, why? To what purpose? And was a continuing pattern of manipulating crime statistics present within the Baltimore City administration, and if so ... who? Who knew about it and when?"
The call by O'Malley and Hamm for an unbiased statewide audit reverses a statement the mayor made last week. He said he would not ask for an audit but that anyone is invited to review the city's statistics.
But calls for a new audit have intensified in the past two weeks.
The Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention is scheduled to complete an audit of crime statistics of Baltimore and four other jurisdictions by August, a month before the Democratic primary.
Last week, Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, introduced legislation supported by Duncan calling for the state audit to cover all of Maryland.
And City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. is seeking support to introduce a resolution Monday calling for an independent audit by academic officials from area universities.
Harris said the FBI could be seen as political, even though O'Malley points to its involvement in his 1999 audit as giving the study greater credibility. Harris said he would still introduce his resolution because the mayor and Hamm will not find an organization to volunteer to do such a review.
"I can't imagine any entity that could conduct such an audit that would not be politically connected," Harris said, other than criminal experts from four area colleges.
Hamm said if the council calls for an audit, he will abide by its wish.
"Our crime numbers are accurate," Hamm said. "I'm not going to back down from" a council-ordered audit.
Clark speaks out
But Hamm's predecessor, fired Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, said in an interview broadcast last night on WBAL-TV that top O'Malley administration officials told him to back off of auditing crime statistics because a review of rapes and robberies in 2002 showed the city was underreporting incidents.
Clark said he wanted to investigate further but was told in a meeting to stop.
O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said others who were at the meeting deny Clark's account, and he said that the city has conducted 11 small audits since 2003.
"Kevin Clark is not telling the truth," Kearney said in a statement. "He never expressed any of these concerns while in office, when he was dismissed in 2004, or in the 15 months since -- nor did he raise these allegations among the many in his $60 million lawsuit."
Clark was fired in November 2004 after the mayor determined that a domestic altercation involving the commissioner had become too much of a distraction. Clark sued for wrongful termination, but his suit was dismissed in April. He is appealing that decision.
Ehrlich said he was bothered by Clark's accusations and said they only bolster the need for an audit.
"I'm bothered by it a great deal," Ehrlich said. "This is a guy who is in a position to know, and someone is not telling the truth."
At last night's council hearing, Councilman James B. Kraft said the matter is political posturing in an election year.
"These are allegations made during the silly season to divert attention from the real success," Kraft said.
Sun reporter Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.