June 21, 2003
By Sean Gardiner and Leonard Levitt STAFF WRITERS
More than 200 felonies were improperly reduced to misdemeanors in a Chelsea precinct last year in order to falsely cut crime rates, and a second precinct also is being investigated for allegedly cooking the books, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly acknowledged Friday.
Union sources told Newsday that supervisors in at least two other precincts also are being scrutinized for allegedly knocking down felonies, but a police spokesman said the probe - which Kelly called "a major investigation" - is limited to the two precincts referred to by the commissioner.
Kelly admitted Friday that 203 out of 811 felonies at the 10th Precinct in Chelsea were improperly reduced to misdemeanors last year, allowing the precinct to show a 7.42 crime reduction over 2001. Had those cases been counted properly, its crime rate would have risen 15.7 percent. The city's overall crime rate, with more than 150,000 felonies a year, would have been little affected.
Kelly would not name the other precinct he said is being investigated for downgrading crime, but a New York Times report identified it as Police Service Area 7, a Bronx housing police precinct.
He also wouldn't say what action may be taken against the 10th Precinct's former commanding officer, Capt. Dominic Gentile, who was transferred to the 72nd Precinct in Sunset Park. Gentile was not available for comment. But John Driscoll, president of the captains' union, said that his initiatives cut crime in Chelsea and that "the error rate was slightly above what was acceptable."
A tip by a disgruntled officer led to the 10th Precinct audit.
Kelly described the NYPD's crime statistic monitoring system - regular and surprise crime report audits by the Quality Assurance Division - as "fairly effective." He said most precincts have less than a 2 percent rate of incorrectly classified crimes.
Police union sources told Newsday that Gramercy's 13th Precinct and Bedford-Stuyvesant's 73rd Precinct are also being looked at for allegedly manipulating statistics. Last year crime was up 5.37 percent in the 13th and down 5.24 percent in the 73rd Precinct.
Al O'Leary, a spokesman for the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, said that downgrading crimes is "something the PBA believes is happening to a far greater extent than just one precinct" but that police officers are afraid to complain about it.
"There are cases where PBA delegates were transferred and punitive actions taken where they defended police officers who refused to downgrade a felony to a misdemeanor," O'Leary said. "We believe this is systemic, retaliations are swift, and because of that most cops will not come forward."
The controversy comes on the heels of a news conference Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg held Sunday to tout New York as the safest big U.S. city, based on 2002 statistics released by the FBI. Crime stats in the city have gone down for 11 consecutive years. Police officials have largely credited CompStat, the tracking system in which commanders are held accountable for crime spikes at often contentious meetings. The "CompStat" crime rate counts only seven felonies - murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, grand larceny, burglary and auto theft.
Categorizing crime is open "to the interpretation of the event," said Andrew Karmen, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College. "If you make it a misdemeanor instead of a felony then it goes away," as far as CompStat is concerned.
Since CompStat began in 1994, at least five precinct commanders have been disciplined for manipulating their crime statistics.
Kelly said he didn't think pressure to continue crime reductions was to blame for the 10th Precinct's problems.
"Obviously, we're concerned about crime and crime statistics," he said. "[But] we want that to be translated into effective strategies, not doing anything [improper] with the numbers."
Eli Silverman, professor of police studies at John Jay College, said statistics are not commonly fudged in the NYPD because the department has dealt harshly with those caught cooking the books. "I think most guys know this is a severe violation of one of the department's 10 Commandments," he said.
Staff writer Wil Cruz contributed to this story.