Study: Agency obtains convictions in only one of four cases
SYRACUSE, N.Y., June 26 " The FBI obtains convictions in just one in four cases, the worst average among major federal law enforcement agencies, according to a new study of Justice Department statistics.
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"Congress has pushed the FBI into being all things to all people."
Author of study
FROM 1993 through 1997, the FBI referred 222,504 cases for prosecution. Only 27 percent resulted in a conviction, said researchers at Syracuse University"s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC.
In about one-third of cases the FBI referred, federal prosecutors declined to take action because of weak or insufficient evidence, or after deciding there was minimal or no federal interest.
An FBI spokesman called the study "meaningless."
TRAC, a research organization that analyzes U.S. Justice Department data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, is co-directed by David Burnham, a former New York Times reporter.
Burnham suggested the FBI may be asked to do too much.
"Congress has pushed the FBI into being all things to all people," he said. "They"ve passed all these white collar crime laws. They"ve passed all these drug laws. There"s heavy pressure from presidents, Congress and industry for the FBI to handle everything."
TRAC found that in 1997, half of the FBI"s 12,324 convictions involved drug or bank theft cases, crimes that Burnham said could have been handled by state or local authorities.
FBI BLASTS STUDY
The study, released to the media Saturday night, found the FBI spent less time on cases where it has primary or exclusive responsibility: national security (12 convictions); official corruption (233), organized crime (400), civil rights (99) and white-collar crimes such as medical fraud (202) and embezzlement (66).
The numbers are accurate, but do not provide a true reflection of the bureau"s work because they are based on attorney"s reports, which are different from the bureau"s, said FBI spokesman Tron Brekke.
"He doesn"t understand how this agency works," Brekke said of Burnham. "He doesn"t establish an even playing field among the agencies. If we were all alike, the way we did business ... then maybe there"s a valid way of comparing."
Compared with other selected federal agencies, the FBI"s ratio of convictions-to-dismissals, its "strike out" average, was the poorest.
• The Immigration and Naturalization Service topped the list with 18 convictions for every dismissal.
• The Drug Enforcement Administration had a 7-to-1 ratio.
• The IRS made good on a 2-to-1 average, according to the study.
"A lot of these other agencies are singular mission agencies, like DEA," Brekke said. "The FBI has approximately 300 separate violations that we look at, including drugs, where we have concurrent jurisdiction with DEA."
TRAC noted that the FBI"s conviction average was significantly more impressive when it was considered in terms of cases that were actually prosecuted " 69 percent ended in convictions. Although complete 1998 figures were not available, TRAC reported that the FBI ended with convictions in 76 percent of its cases that were tried last year.
The data also showed that the proportion of FBI referrals prosecuted has steadily improved in recent years, going from 38 percent in 1994 to 49 percent in 1998.
In addition, the TRAC study reported that the FBI, with 11,269 agents, has more agents per capita than at any time in its history.
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