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Making sense of Hyattsville crime data

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Posted on: May 28, 2024

By HEATHER WRIGHT

In 2020, if Hyattsville residents wanted to know whether thefts or carjackings in the city were trending up or down, they could find out simply by looking at the most recent monthly or quarterly reports on the Hyattsville Police Department (HPD) website

At least since April 2022, however, those reports have often been out of date. In response to an April 2022 Life & Times inquiry, HPD Chief Jarod Towers noted that staffing issues in the police records section had led to a backlog of statistical reports. Although the department caught up in July 2022, by March 2023, city crime reports were out of date by as much as five months. 

And at the end of May 2024, the last monthly report available was dated back to March 2023, and there wasn’t a functional link to quarterly and annual reports. This reporter submitted a public information request for the first quarter crime report of 2024, since it wasn’t available online. 

The monthly, quarterly and annual crime reports organize city crime data by categories: crimes against persons (carjacking, homicide, assault, etc.), crimes against property (stolen vehicle, theft, etc.), total crimes, and calls for service. The categorized information is also then broken down by ward. 

The department’s crime reports present data within categories such that one can compare numbers from one period to the previous period (e.g., March 2023 compared to February 2023). One can also compare data from one time period to the same period in the previous year (e.g., March 2023 compared to March 2022). So, for example, one could easily learn that reported theft in March 2023 was 54% higher than in the previous month (43 incidents vs. 28) but just 16% higher than in March 2022 (43 incidents vs. 37). 

The most regular and recent crime information currently put out by the HPD are the weekly crime digests, available on the department’s website and Facebook page. These digests provide weekly crime highlights — a handful of curated examples that provide snapshots of what the department encountered during the week. The first weekly crime digest post on Feb. 1, 2023, said the weekly digest would focus on “crimes where we see patterns emerging, or a crime where we have seen repetitive incidents of the same type in a short amount of time.” 

The weekly digest for May 13 through May 20, 2024, for example, described three incidents: a strong-arm robbery along the 3500 block of East-West Highway; an arrest of two suspects tampering with cars near Kirkwood Apartments; and a handgun arrest at a traffic stop in the 5500 block of 45th Avenue. The weekly digest is not structured to make comparisons or analyze crime trends.

The HPD website does link to a searchable, interactive crime map at cityprotect.com

CityProtect allows users to download reports detailing quarterly HPD calls for service, which include information about reported crimes, along with the date, time and address of reported incidents. 

Unless the HPD continues to provide monthly and quarterly reports, however, it’s up to the viewer to do all the database analyses and comparisons. 

The current city code states that the HPD is supposed to present monthly reports to the city council: “The Chief of Police shall, at a regular meeting of the City Council in each month, lay before the City Council a full and complete statement of all work done by his Department during the preceding month.”

HPD spokesperson Suzanne Kennedy confirmed in an email that this directive was in the current city code but noted that the relevant section hadn’t been updated since 1969 and “does not reflect our current Council meeting practices.” She noted, “Reports from Chief Towers are provided fairly frequently on an as-needed basis.” 

Kennedy also cited the weekly crime digests, the HPD Facebook page, and the CityProtect database as ways that the “HPD still provides regular updates on their work to ensure city leadership, residents, and business owners are kept informed about important developments and crime statistics.”

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