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Numbers don't always add up in sheriff candidates' ads

Kim Bogart, a Democrat running for sheriff, says the incumbent is doing a terrible job. Just look at the numbers. Republican Bob White, that very incumbent, says he's doing a great job. Just look at the numbers. With the race turning into the homestretch, the ammo used by both campaigns is statistical: response times, crime rates, crime-solving rates. During an election, such data can be spun into the stuff of performance evaluations. Below are four claims from the Bogart and White camps, along with evaluations of just how creative they got with the math. The statement

"Violent crime is up 28 percent the past two years. Robberies are up 98 percent."

Kim Bogart campaign mailer criticizing Bob White

Our ruling

Bogart is using Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime reporting statistics from 2005 and 2007. According to the FDLE, there were 1,236 murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults in Pasco County in 2005. Two years later, that figure was 1,582. In the robbery category, Pasco County reported 149 in 2005 and 295 in 2007. Bogart's math on the crime increase is correct. But for context, we also analyzed a claim from White's campaign that Pasco's overall crime rate is 20 percent below the state average and the county's violent crime rate is 43 percent lower than the state's rate. White's math is also accurate, which goes to show that crime statistics can be dissected to fit almost any argument. We can't address the conclusion in Bogart's mailing that the stats mean White "failed to protect" Pasco County residents. But the numbers are solid. We rate the claim True.

The statement

"We are responding to emergency calls twice as fast as my predecessor."

Bob White, speaking in a candidate forum at Pasco-Hernando Community College on Oct. 9

Our ruling

By response to "emergency calls," White is referring to the number of minutes it takes a deputy to reach a life-threatening, or Priority 1, call for service. These include shootings, stabbings, robberies and suicides. But we think Pasco residents probably consider "emergency calls" to also include things like batteries, stalkers and drunk drivers, which are rated Priority 2. Looking only at that first type of call, White is correct. According to his agency's Law Enforcement Operations Multi-Year Plan, the response time to Priority 1 calls in 2000 was an average of 10.8 minutes. In 2007, it was 5.5 minutes. That is, indeed, close to half the time, or twice as fast. On the second type, the response times are down also, but not nearly so dramatically. Those figures went from 15.1 minutes to 13 minutes on average. So White's claim is accurate as it relates to the most urgent 911 calls, but not on others that could also be considered emergencies. We find his claim to be Mostly True.

The statement

"What he's failing to tell you is that response times to 99 percent of your calls for service have increased since he took office."

Kim Bogart, speaking at the same candidate forum

Our ruling

Bogart was taking issue with White's claim about response times being down. His beef is that the sheriff's statement is based on only the most urgent 911 calls, which are less than 1 percent of the total calls for service. Using the same data as his opponent, Bogart says responses have slowed to all other calls. Sheriff's Office figures show that the average response time for all calls ticked up from 19.5 minutes in 2000 to 22 minutes in 2007. That was fueled by the rising response time to Priority 3 and other low-priority calls (illegal dumping, noise complaints and so on) from an average of 22.1 minutes to 25.6 minutes. Such low-priority calls account for about three-quarters of the calls to the Sheriff's Office. But response time to Priority 2 calls (suspicious person, shooting into a dwelling and so on) improved slightly, from 15.1 minutes to 13 minutes. They account for about a quarter of all calls. The bottom line: Response times have slowed for about 75 percent of the calls — which is still a lot, just not as much as Bogart claims. We rate the statement Half True.

The statement

"If you or your family is a victim of a crime, (the) Pasco Sheriff's Office is 145 percent more likely to solve that crime than previous sheriff's administrations."

Bob White campaign mailing

Our ruling

This statement is based on clearance rates — how many crimes are solved out of those committed. In 2000, the year before White took office, the rate was 20.3 percent. In 2007, it was 29.5 percent. That's a 45 percent increase to the clearance rate, not 145 percent, as the statement seems to suggest. But White's campaign says the statement isn't about percent increase but about probability — the likelihood a crime will be solved. If, in round numbers, the likelihood was 20 percent and now it's 30 percent, that's 1.5 times more likely, the campaign contends. In a recent debate, White worded the statement a little differently, saying the Sheriff's Office is "one and a half times as likely to solve that crime today." We hate to quibble, but "as likely" and "more likely" are a world apart, mathematically speaking. It's not correct, as White's mailing and Web site say, to assert that crimes are 145 percent more likely to be solved now. Based on the misleading wording, we rate the claim False.

Numbers don't always add up in sheriff candidates' ads 10/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 6:16pm]
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