Criticized for downgrading thefts of wallets or purses in the French Quarter and Central Business District two years ago, the New Orleans Police Department won a dollop of praise Wednesday from New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux for better crime reporting in the 8th District.

The measure for improvement, Quatrevaux said in a letter to NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison, is a statistic that would otherwise raise alarm: a 42 percent rise in reported 8th District thefts in the first seven months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013.

But in that earlier period, Quatrevaux’s office found that “at least 177” incidents had been misclassified as “miscellaneous.” In many cases, the IG’s report found, police classified the items as lost even though the missing debit or credit cards were later used illegally.

The underreporting that Quatrevaux’s office found may have gone well beyond those 177 cases, the report said, since in 249 cases the people who reported the disappearances quickly canceled their cards or never reported unauthorized charges. Many of those cases also were probably thefts, the IG found.

In “miscellaneous” cases, no follow-up investigation is done, leaving the particulars of the incident in question.

Quatrevaux’s office noted a major rise in theft classifications in the district, which encompasses the French Quarter, CBD and Marigny Triangle.

The IG’s 2013 report found 1,131 incidents reported as Signal 67 thefts over the seven-month period. The number rose to 1,603 over the same period last year. Such thefts include more than just purse- and wallet-snatching.

“It should be made clear that the 42 percent is an increase in reported crime, not actual crime,” Quatrevaux emphasized in the letter Wednesday. “I commend the NOPD’s 8th District for rapidly improving the reporting of crime in its area of responsibility.”

It’s not clear what portion of the increase in the 8th District, if any, is the result of an overall rise in reported crime citywide.

The first half of 2014 saw a 30 percent rise in New Orleans in reported “person” crimes, which include murder, rape, armed robbery, simple robbery and assault. Reported property crimes — burglary, theft and auto theft — rose by 14 percent, according to the NOPD’s own figures.

First Assistant Inspector General Howard Schwartz said the office looked closely at the particular signal “64-F,” for theft by fraud, as a key indicator of improvement. The 2013 report found that the 8th District reported not a single 64-F over the first seven months of 2013. In the same period last year, it reported 351 of them, Schwartz said.

“We’ve also noticed an increase in alerts they put out for people using stolen cards and other kinds of thefts, specifically in the French Quarter,” Schwartz said.

At a news conference Wednesday announcing an increase in state trooper presence in the city, Harrison credited the IG’s report in 2013 for sparking a change.

“We realized after he brought it to our attention that there were crimes being misclassified, and we made sure we came in line with the correct way to classify them,” he said. “And we’re glad that he did the follow-up and acknowledged that we’re now in line with the correct way to classify them.”

Harrison took over for former NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas in August, 10 months after the IG’s Office issued its critical report.

Staff writer Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report. Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.