It was a great idea that has been corrupted
by human nature. The Compstat program that made NYPD commanders
accountable for controlling crime has degenerated into a situation
where the police leadership presses subordinates to keep numbers
low by any means necessary. The department’s middle managers
will do anything to avoid being dragged onto the carpet at the weekly
Compstat meetings. They are, by nature, ambitious people who lust
for promotions, and rising crime rates won’t help anybody’s
The Compstat program was started when crime was at an all-time
high, with over 2,000 homicides a year and countless felonies. The
program called for the immediate tracking of crime, swift deployment
of police resources to problem areas and what Compstat’s creator
Jack Maple called relentless follow-up. The only problem is, it
didn’t anticipate the “fudge factor.” That’s
the characteristic that allows local commanders to make it look
like crime has dropped when it has in fact increased.
In the early days, it was easy for a precinct commander to benefit
from Compstat. He or she had crime-ridden neighborhoods where rudimentary
policing techniques could bring crime down. Add the increased resources
from the Safe Streets/Safe City program, and just paying attention
to patterns and putting cops where crime was happening caused stats
to fall dramatically. Then add to that the benefit of the gun control
effort by the street-crime teams and we’ve made some real
and honest impact on crime in New York City.
Of course, when you finally get a real handle on crime, you eventually
hit a wall where you can’t push it down any more. Compstat
does not recognize that wall so the commanders have to get “creative”
to keep their numbers going down. No mayor or police commissioner
wants to be the one holding the bag when crime starts climbing,
and no precinct commander wants to be the one to deliver the bad
news that he or she doesn’t have enough cops to do the job.
So how do you fake a
crime decrease? It’s pretty simple. Don’t file reports,
misclassify crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, under-value the
property lost to crime so it’s not a felony, and report a
series of crimes as a single event.
A particularly insidious way to fudge the numbers
is to make it difficult or impossible for people to report crimes
— in other words, make the victims feel like criminals so
they walk away just to spare themselves further pain and suffering.
Some commanders even persecute the victims so they
stop reporting crimes. In one case, it is alleged that a precinct
commander shut down a fast food joint because the manager reported
a grand larceny — someone stole a pocketbook. The precinct
commander shut the place down for “an investigation”
during lunch hour. Do you think the manager of that establishment,
who relies on his lunchtime income, will ever report a crime again?
The truth is, there are over 5,000 fewer police officers
on our streets than there were in 1999. And there is a lot more
work to do because of the threat of terrorism. And all along, the
bosses have been peddling phony numbers to make everybody feel safe.
Our mayor likes to say that the NYPD has been doing more with less.
Perception becomes reality. But when people are being put at risk
and victimized due to ambitious managers, that’s unacceptable.
We’re asking every PBA member to share with
their delegates the hard evidence of crimes being downgraded so
we can save this department from itself.