The NYPD, which has led the nation in producing historical and very real reductions in crime, is in a cramped statistical box, trying -and expected - to exceed unprecedented reductions while confronted by growing controversy concerning the issue of possible unethical changes in crime data.
Our previous writings explored how the Police Department's Compstat system for tracking crime contributed to the city's sharp drop in crime. We still believe that is true, and so do scores of retired police superiors we interviewed for a new study that was reported on in The Times.
But like the retired police commanders we surveyed, we also see the underside of Compstat: We found that commanders felt greater pressure to downgrade major crimes to minor crimes from 1995, (the first full year of Compstat), to 2008 than they did before Compstat was initiated. In addition, commanders perceived lesser pressure for integrity of crime data once Compstat was begun.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the Police Department willfully refuses to take seriously what the department's own retired commanders say, and has launched a public-relations offensive based on many false claims: that we are opposed to Compstat; that the retired police we surveyed, from the rank of captain and higher, were tools of their union; and that the use of an anonymous survey is tainted.
Our findings did not advocate the abandonment of this valuable crime management accountability system nor did we deny the NYPD's crucial role in the City's crime decline.
Our work does suggest, though, that the dimensions of this crime drop are open to question. The responding haze of fog generated by the Police Department's public-relations operation and reliance on non objective "studies" thwarts much-needed transparency and obscures the need for independent monitoring of NYPD crime statistics.
There is additional evidence supportive of our findings. First the press and public accounts of police misclassifying crime or discouraging crime reports dating back to 2004 and earlier are legion. Second, there are other empirical sources which support our findings. For example, one analysis compared NYPD felony assaults from 1997 to 2002 with health department recordings of assault victims. The NYPD assault victims declined every year except one for a total decrease of 24 percent. The hospital figures, on the other hand, increased every year except one for a total increase of 19 percent. The incongruity of these trends speaks to the need for additional scrutiny of NYPD data.
There are also numerous discussions of distortions in crime statistics emanating from Compstat and other Compstat-like performance management systems in such locations as Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans, Broward County and elsewhere. Furthermore, this phenomenon is not unique to the United States. New York's Compstat system has been adopted in many countries abroad where similar issues arise.
In the United Kingdom, for example, an in depth analysis of performance management systems in three police forces concluded that ". . .the conflicting priorities brought about by managerial dictum and the bureaucratic rules governing the recording of crime are to 'define crime down. It leads to a manipulation of data to provide pleasing results." Another United Kingdom study referred to "repeated reports of the massaging of figures by the police."
In Australia, in 1998 the New South Wales police force developed the Operations and Crime Review (OCR) management system modeled after New York's Compstat. A 2000 evaluation by an independent consulting group found communication to be largely a one way process with little feedback to commanders, "reinforcing the culture of fear and punishment." The following year the Deputy Commissioner resigned after he announced that crime was falling when the Bureau of Crime Statistics said it was increasing.
In our survey of retired police commanders, we found major support for Compstat's fundamentals and purposes, although it was the officers' reservations about the integrity of crime data that attracted the most attention from the media. And this is as it should be, for Compstat's success is much heralded and well known, but its downside needs exposure and public discussion - not self-serving explanations and falsehoods.
John A Eterno, Ph.D. is Associate Dean and Director of Graduate Studies, Molloy College. He is a retired NYPD captain and received a Police Foundation award for his departmental research. He has published two books and numerous articles.
Eli B. Silverman, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of NYPD Battles Crime: Innovative Strategies in Policing and numerous studies of management innovations in policing.
crime statistics rise immediately after our report goes public -1-
crime statistics rise immediately after our report goes public -2-
Eli Silverman CUNY TV interview
NY Times Letter to Editor by Silverman & Eterno
NY Daily News op-ed by Eterno & Silverman
NY Times Article by Rashbaum
Michael Kennedy Ph.D., Retired Major and Organized Crime Detective, New South Wales Police Force, Australia
ABC News clip officer admits to pressures re: numbers
Article that shows more evidence supporting our findings
Yet another example - attempted rape victim case downgraded:
1. Newspaper coverage of rape
2. Another newspaper coverage of rape
3. Video coverage of rape
Article 112 Precinct Investigation
Paul Moses Village Voice Articles
1. "Corruption? It figures."
2. "These Stats are a crime."
3. "Something's Missing."
Another example of news article on manipulation