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Report says Atlanta distorted crime data

ATLANTA -- Atlanta underreported crimes for years to help land the 1996 Olympics and pump up tourism, according to an audit commissioned by police that was released yesterday.

Police in this relentlessly self-promoting city of the New South routinely altered or suppressed thousands of crime reports in a concerted effort "to improve Atlanta's chances for selection" for the Olympics, the audit said, citing interviews with several officers. "Crime incidents were downgraded, underreported, and discarded."

The practice of underreporting crime began during the site selection process for the Olympics and continued until at least 2002, when Police Chief Richard Pennington and Mayor Shirley Franklin took office, the report said.

Pennington, who sought the audit, endorsed its findings and said he would seek money to add more than 300 street officers to the 1,600-member police force to crack down on the drug trade. He said 75 percent of violent crimes is tied to drugs.

"I don't want to alarm the citizens or have them think that when they walk out on the streets, they're going to be mugged, shot, or robbed, because that's not the case," Pennington said. "The reason that I brought this to light is to educate the public that there's a lot of work to be done."

Atlanta officials have long nurtured the city's image as a sophisticated, pro-business place. Calling itself "the city too busy to hate," Atlanta came through the civil rights era with relatively little violence because civic leaders feared trouble would be bad for business.

Despite the distorted figures, Atlanta ranked number one or two nationwide in violent crimes such as rape and murder in nine of the past 10 years, according to FBI crime data, which are compiled from reports submitted by police departments. The report concluded that many crime reports have been either intentionally suppressed or lost through sloppy record-keeping. In 2002, there were more than 22,000 missing police reports.

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