The Upper Darby Police Department underreported the number of homicides to a statewide crime database for at least the years 2019 and 2020, based on comments made by the township’s police superintendent in 2021. Additionally, this year’s homicide count in Delaware County’s largest population center was recently revised upward — but only after Broad + Liberty reached out to the township police superintendent about possible errors.
While residents of Philadelphia get homicide statistics updated daily, neighbors in the collar counties are often left in the dark. Tallying crime and tracking trends in the adjacent counties is made all the more difficult by the number of township and borough police agencies, and the findings regarding Upper Darby cast doubt on one of the very few statistical tools citizens have to track crime in their own neighborhoods.
Upper Darby Township’s crime statistics are of particular interest to the region given its extensive border with some of the most dangerous precincts in Philadelphia. The township is also the sixth largest municipality in the commonwealth, according to US Census Bureau data.
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Just two months ago, the township’s statistics showed one homicide in 2019, and six in 2020 according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) database operated by the state police.
However, in a news article from January 2021 (reported by this author), Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt said the number of homicides in 2019 and 2020 were four and eleven, respectively.
Adding the two years together, the database showed seven murders while Superintendent Bernhardt was verbally acknowledging fifteen — more than twice the number reported to the UCR database.
The UDT Police Department now appears to be adjusting homicide numbers in the database after being contacted by Broad + Liberty about possible discrepancies, although a request for comment to Superintendent Bernhardt on that specific question was not returned.
Even though the database is managed by the state police, each law enforcement agency is responsible for populating its own monthly data.
Also in July, the township had only reported one homicide through the first five months of the year — that single homicide being reported in March, according to a screenshot.
When Broad + Liberty first reached out to Superintendent Bernhardt in early July about possible data reporting discrepancies, this outlet highlighted to him that media reports indicated there were likely two homicides in March, and one in May.
The current data now shows two homicides tallied in March, and one in May.
The discrepancies are pressing because the entire nation has tried to track an explosion in violent crime erupting mid-year of 2020 and which has barely abated. For example, Philadelphia witnessed 562 homicides in 2021, a single-year all-time high. With 352 homicides so far this year, the city could very well surpass that figure. The city updates its homicide numbers daily, but does not update other crime categories that frequently, such as carjackings, which have become a major concern in the last two years.
In addition to reaching out to Bernhardt, Broad + Liberty also contacted Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer and the four council members who serve on the township public safety committee. Those requests for comment were not returned.
Myles Snyder, communications director with the Pennsylvania State Police said citizens should consider the UCR data as reliable, but that it “is only as good as what is provided by police agencies. However, full data quality and UCR Act 180 compliance audits are conducted regularly to adhere to program administration requirements and to assist in furthering the integrity of the data.”
The legislation mentioned by Snyder, UCR Act 180, provides a mechanism by which the state can fine law enforcement agencies for failing to report, but does not mention any such mechanism for incorrect reporting. In this case, the fine is having certain state revenues and grants withheld, according to the law.
More current data would allow us to see new trends in time to adjust to them and prevent them from becoming widespread, as opposed to reacting to them after they’re already a problem for law enforcement.
Snyder said the state police perform compliance audits of the UCR, and “the most recent compliance audit PSP performed showed that 39 agencies were not in compliance for the year 2021.”
“PSP also ensures accuracy in reporting by providing training, and we do quality control checks on the data to ensure its validity. We submit the state data in quarterly updates to the FBI,” Snyder said.
Former Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie said although a homicide might appear to be a cut-and-dried statistic, the realities can oftentimes be much more complex.
“I do know there’s a nuance that if the murder — if a guy got shot in Upper Darby and got transported to Hahnemann and died, my understanding is it gets recorded where he died,” Micozzie told Broad + Liberty.
He also said time and resources come into play, such that the police are very much on the case, but the statistics don’t make that clear.
“So if I got shot today and I die two weeks from now, but [the police] already entered it as a shooting and then [the police are] on to 15 other things — and [this department is] not as big as Philly which has a whole department that that’s all they look at — and [the police] move on. Is there a chance that it doesn’t get captured as a homicide, but it’s still actively investigated as a homicide? I would say, yeah,” Micozzie said.
In the two years since the crime epidemic erupted nearly simultaneously with the Covid-19 pandemic and the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis, tracking crime has become problematic nationwide.
“Nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies nationwide, including the New York City Police Department and Los Angeles Police Department, failed to report their 2021 crime data to the FBI, according to data provided to Axios Local from a partnership with The Marshall Project,” Axios reported in June.
Part of the problem for the FBI’s national statistics gathering was a transition to a new system, “the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which gathers more specific information on each incident,” Axios said.
A system that would provide crime and arrest statistics with the shortest lag time possible would have practical applications as well, beyond just allowing a citizenry to stay informed.
When Broad + Liberty asked Collar County district attorneys if more consistent statistics would aid in prosecution last year, one confirmed the problem.
“More current data would allow us to see new trends in time to adjust to them and prevent them from becoming widespread, as opposed to reacting to them after they’re already a problem for law enforcement,” Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said in 2021. “Because Bucks County is so diverse – urban, suburban, rural – we’d benefit from data on a micro level so that we could dedicate resources where they’re most needed.”
However, the logistical challenge of such a statistics project is steep.
“This would be an extraordinary challenge because of the size and manpower of the 39 different departments,” in Bucks County, Weintraub said. “Because we are a Commonwealth, each has its own boss, its own way of doing things, and its own particular resource limitations.”
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said market solutions to these logistical problems are rarely created and targeted to governments.
“In the private sector, if we [the DA’s office] were in a money making business, there would be people selling us products every day to make us find that information at our fingertips,” Stollsteimer said in 2021.
July 6, 2022: Broad + Liberty reporter Todd Shepherd reaches out to Superintendent Bernhardt with a screenshot of the PA UCR showing one homicide in the township through all of 2022. The statistics interface placed that one homicide in March, and further showed data had been entered through and including June. No other months showed a homicide.
Bernhardt did not respond to the request for comment.
July 22: Shepherd takes a wider screenshot of 2022 statistics, showing that the only homicide tallied in the UCR database was placed in March.
Aug. 15, 2022: Shepherd takes screenshots of PA UCR for Upper Darby for 2019-22. By that date, the screenshots still indicate six homicides for 2020. (Exact time of screenshot is indicated in the URL).
Aug.16, 2022: Shepherd contacts Bernhardt again by email, and points out the discrepancy between the logged statistics in the UCR database for 2019 and 2020 against Bernhardt’s statements about those years in the Delaware Valley Journal story from 2021.
Aug. 17: Shepherd reaches out to Mayor Keffer and select members of the town council about the reporting discrepancies, providing them with the four screenshots taken on Aug. 15.
Aug. 22: Shepherd notices that the 2022 homicide tally has been changed from one to four. Of the three homicides added, one homicide was placed in February, another in May, and the last change added a homicide to March, bringing the total for that month to two.
Additionally, Shepherd notices that the homicide tally for 2020 has been changed from six to eight. Shepherd sends a new email to Bernhardt asking if he is changing the stats based on the Broad + Liberty inquiries.
Shepherd also asks Bernhardt why July of 2022 stats show no homicides when media reports indicated a double homicide on July 8 in a funeral procession.
Bernhardt does not respond to this third request for comment.
Aug. 23: Shepherd screenshots homicide tally for 2020 which include the edits, from six homicides to eight.
Aug. 24: Story published.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports