Monday, March 1, 2010

UNVEILING NYPD COMPSTAT

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

18 comments:

  1. Whats that saying? 'How many times can you squeeze a lemon'?

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  2. I would hope that in the midst of this entire discussion everyone would be seeking the truth so that we can solve major problems in the field of criminal justice. I have known Dr. Silverman for many years. I believe him to be one of the most honest and scholarly professors I have known. Therefore, I trust his research. Dr. Kimora

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  3. Great piece. Keep up the good work!

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  4. It is really good to see that Compstat and "Zero Tolerance" is not what it was praised to be years ago. Douzens of German Police Leaders and politicians at that time made a pilgrimage to New York to see the "miracle" and to listen to the messages and sermons of Bratton and Guilliani. Unfortunately, many of them implemented the ideas of "cleaning up" inner cities with an iron broom - especially as this idea fitted well into the at that time and still poor economic situation in Germany. Nowadays some politicians want unemplyed people, depending on social welfare, to clean up the streets and to shovel snow. Will there be a spring awakening in 2010? I don´t think so.

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  5. Allan Rabinowitz, MFT and Janet K. Smith, PhDMarch 8, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    The controversy generated by Eterno and Silverman and the paranoid response of NYPD defenders worries at least some Los Angelenos.

    A story in the Local section of the Los Angeles Times of 8/5/09, as Chief William J. Bratton was announcing his decision to leave LAPD three years early, comments:

    "The decision by Bratton, who has dramatically reshaped the LAPD and pushed down crime rates since taking over in 2002, took the city’s political and police leadership by surprise."

    The same article reports Bratton as previously saying:

    "I never want to go and just maintain something,...I want to be able to fix something."

    This is interesting, in light of his response to the Eterno/Silverman research.

    Here's the text of a letter we sent to the NY Times on 2/21. It was not published.
    ------------------
    To the Editor:
    As long time Los Angeles residents, we are struck by our former Chief Bratton’s op ed in which he summarily dismisses the findings of two criminologists who surveyed retired police commanders. For someone who preached the value of organizational transparency, the chief’s stance raises serious concern. How can we trust a law enforcement agency that rejects review from the outside? Should we now be concerned that future research might uncover distortions in Bratton’s LA crime-fighting record?
    ---------

    Allan Rabinowitz and Janet K. Smith

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  6. Allan Rabinowitz, MFT and Janet K. Smith, PhDMarch 8, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    The controversy generated by Eterno and Silverman and the paranoid response of NYPD defenders worries at least some Los Angelenos.

    A story in the Local section of the Los Angeles Times of 8/5/09, as Chief William J. Bratton was announcing his decision to leave LAPD three years early, comments:

    "The decision by Bratton, who has dramatically reshaped the LAPD and pushed down crime rates since taking over in 2002, took the city’s political and police leadership by surprise."

    The same article reports Bratton as previously saying:

    "I never want to go and just maintain something,...I want to be able to fix something."

    This is interesting, in light of his response to the Eterno/Silverman research.

    Here's the text of a letter we sent to the NY Times on 2/21. It was not published.
    ------------------
    To the Editor:
    As long time Los Angeles residents, we are struck by our former Chief Bratton’s op ed in which he summarily dismisses the findings of two criminologists who surveyed retired police commanders. For someone who preached the value of organizational transparency, the chief’s stance raises serious concern. How can we trust a law enforcement agency that rejects review from the outside? Should we now be concerned that future research might uncover distortions in Bratton’s LA crime-fighting record?
    ---------

    Allan Rabinowitz and Janet K. Smith

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  7. As a political scientist I've enjoyed following this controversy by respected social scientists. I must say, though I am no expert in the area, I am in no way surprised by the the "circling of the wagons" effect by the NYPD and the city administration. After all, findings like this are bound to be disputed by those who have a stake in the outcome.

    What Silverman and Eterno provide is a wonderful example of policy based social science. If they are wrong let's see alternative systematic evidence produced.

    Keep up the good work.

    David Tabb

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  8. I have attempted to pass the following feedback on to Heather MacDonald re her article Compstat and Its Enemies.

    How are Eterno and Silerman enemies of Compstat when they are simply arguing that in the criminal justice system 'the ends can never justify the means'.
    As a journalist it must be sometimes impossible to place your feet in the shoes of others. Many journalists lead a dogs life, treated badly by
    editors, constantly being forced to deliver the good at the last minute, stories are edited to suite the organisational politics etc etc. The problem is that Police are not paid from the private sector as are journalists, they are paid from the public purse and they are part of the criminal justice system. The philosophical foundation of everything they do is 'The Rule of
    Law'. Policing is not a small or big business, it is a social contract,where the ends can never justify the means. Clearly you have ignored the
    many studies on compstat and its overseas variations re the 'culture of
    fear' that it installs in ordinary police.

    Mussellini got the train to run on time. But how did he do it?

    Using positivism as a tool to initiate social change is flawed to the maximum because in changing the habits of human being nothing is inevitable.


    By the way I do not live in an academic Ivory Tower. I was a Major and Organised Crime Detective for almost 20 years before becoming an academic.

    Dr Michael Kennedy
    School of Social Sciences Bach of Policing
    University of Western Sydney
    Swinbourne Building P.G.12
    Locked Bag 1797 Penrith South DC NSW 1797
    Ph (02) 4736 0868
    M. 0418669584
    email: m.kennedy@uws.edu.au


    As is the case with most neo-liberal polemics it is a one way conversation. McDonald and her network can be defined as a neo-liberal because they prefers context dependent criticism and ad hoc negation. They prefer this to the open and frank discussion or better argument, which is at the core of all non conservative thinking.

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  9. I am a writer in New York. On Feb. 21 I was walking in a park in Northern Manhattan when I was grabbed by a male who pushed me off a path and into the woods. I was unable to get free, and he said twice that he wanted and intended to have sex with me. He pinned my arms and had control of me. I was terrified for my safety and even for my life. He started masturbating against me. This went on for a couple of minutes before he had an orgasm and ran off.

    I ran to a populated area and called 911. I told them to get the police there immediately and I would show where the perpetrator entered the woods so they could catch him.

    A half hour went by and no police came. At home I called 911 again. Another 45 minutes went by; still no police. They finally showed up after over two hours and three 911 calls.

    Once in my apartment, six police officers reviewed the details of the crime with me. I told them I’d managed to talk to the perp and he’d given me a name (Michael), and an age (17). I said I’d noticed his tan jacket and the color of his skin. I talked about being pushed into the woods. I repeated the words he’d uttered making clear he wanted sex and that he was masturbating on me. I described how that felt, and the noises he made when he reached orgasm. I stressed that I was at all times overpowered. I said every single thing I could remember. The police interviewed me for 2 hours.

    Toward the end they said they didn’t know how to classify the crime. Some officers called the Special Victims Unit, outside of my hearing.
    Finally I was told Special Victims had classified the crime as misdemeanor “forcible touching.” I argued that the force used against me, the masturbation, and the veritable kidnapping, constituted far more than a misdemeanor. My protests did not matter.

    Next day, I notified a community safety organization. The group angrily called the office of my State Assemblyman and the commander of my Precinct, the 34th. As a result, the crime was immediately upgraded to felony Attempted Rape. A community meeting was called where the commander apologized to me publicly and said his officers’ conduct would be investigated. I asked for my incident report.

    When I got it I was shocked! Almost every detail of the crime was missing from the report. My story had been scrubbed of everything except the fact that the perp grabbed me, pushed me, and mentioned sex. There was nothing about my having been overpowered and pushed into an isolated area. Nothing about the length of my captivity. Nothing about sexual activity: in fact, the report said I reported NO sexual activity!

    I have since verified that after Special Victims Unit downgraded my crime to a misdemeanor, an officer (or officers) from my precinct tweaked my report so it described a misdemeanor. The ADA handling my case has said there’s no doubt that the crime I described was attempted rape, not forcible touching.

    I have further learned that the police officer has admitted to omitting from the report numerous salient details. The officer gave no explanation for why these details were left out. It is difficult to believe the omissions were accidental.

    Talking to agencies that provide post-sexual-assault services, I’ve been told that the downgrading which happened to me appears not to be a fluke. Similar misconduct is said to be happening citywide and the problem is many months old. It's getting worse.

    Here some links supporting my story.

    http://www.manhattantimesnews.com/en/community-news/197-2010/1077-police-and-elected-officials-address-recent-inwood-crimes.html

    http://wahi.typepad.com/the_streets_where_we_live/2010/02/inwood-safety-meeting-video-coverage.html

    I would like to talk with other sexual assault victims who've had similar outrageous experiences with the police. I worry that more people are going to suffer unless we come forward after being sexually assaulted and speak out publicly.

    Debbie Nathan
    Naess2@gmail.com

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  10. A well written article which really does explain how the NYPD ought to look at the downside of ComStat. It seems to be undeniable that there is that terrible pressure to fudge the data and lie about the statistics.

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  11. Silverman and Eterno are doing a real service and should expand their work to other cities. We need to hear the full Compstat story -- warts and all.

    Barry Latzer, Professor
    John Jay College of Criminal justice

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  12. I am a New Yorker that has always supported the NYPD. IN fact, from 2000-03 I was the president of the 20th Precinct Community Council here in Manhattan. As president, I supported and prioritized the balance between community and policing. Unlike, civilian NYPD zealots that believe that the NYPD can do no wrong, I supported the NYPD based on performance, professionalism and sensitivity to quality of life issues. Yes, quality of life issues. You see, one of the primary goals of Comstat was to address crime and, more importantly, quality of life issues. No matter how seemingly insignificant a crime or violation was perceived to be, it earned a place in Comstat.
    After 9/11, however, a perception developed that terrorism and some crime became the only priorities. As a result, quality of life issues fell by the wayside. Today, quality of life issues are non-issues as it pertains to the NYPD. And because the crime stat emphasis is on major crime, and its decrease, a systemic mindset has developed that only "stat heavy" crimes will be pursued, investigated and reported.
    As a community advocate (not community organizer) on the upper west side I have personally witnessed a lack of police reporting of civilian complaints on the site of a police response.
    If crimes and violations are not reported/recorded by responding police officers, the data will never reach the precinct, and certainly not Comstat. This results in flawed or omitted data that nullifies the purpose of Comstat.
    Case in point: On Saturday night,1/23/10 I, and two other neighbors, were assaulted by a mob of drunken teens who had just been ejected from a party.
    Over ten assailants rushed us, knocked us on the ground and I was kicked in the head, kidneys and ribs. It took the police 25 minutes to respond to a numerous calls from our neighbors. When the police finally arrived, they focused on the party, thefts that had occurred in the apartment (felony crimes) and not the assaults that had transpired. When I asked to file a complaint I was told that a detective would call me on Monday. My injuries were not serious by NYPD definition (I didn't go to the hospital) but I was shaken and sore. The effects really hit me a few hours later.
    MOnday came and I didn't hear from anyone from the 20th. Tuesday, wednesday, Thursday...no contact from the NYPD. On Friday I walked to the precinct and waited for an hour to file a complaint. It wasn't busy whatsoever. I just sat there. A sargeant came out and gave me a third degree asking me why I had waited so long to file a complaint! I had to convince him by telling my story in order to get my complaint taken. At least I felt that way. My complaint was finally taken and it was for Assault. I was told that a detective would call me. To date, no one has contacted me from the 20th Precinct. Since then I have learned that assault by three or more people (gang) is a C felony.
    Today I called the 20th precinct to obtain the 61 number (complaint #). I had previously called the precinct but no one had answered in the 124 room.
    Ready for this? I was told by the PAA that there was no record of my complaint in the computer system!
    SO, to summarize...
    A felony assault occurred on 1/23. The police did not take a report on scene. The police did not follow up or contact me. I filed a complaint at the precinct in person and the complaint was not registered.
    Yet the monthly crime stats in our community keep going down according to the precinct reports.
    I think now I know why.
    (cont'd)

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  13. (Cont'd)
    Filing a police report should be the right of all civilians, no matter how insignificant a violation may appear. Assault is a crime in the penal code and should not be a discretionary crime by the police. At a time when the NYPD is allegedly protecting us from terrorist threats you would think that it would start by accurate gathering and compilation of data. THis is not about incompetence in the NYPD...maybe it is...as much as it is a systemic failure of policy and management.
    If gang assaults don't qualify for police investigation, just exactly what does?

    Joseph Bolanos
    Community Advocate
    President: Landmark 76
    West 76th Street PArk Block Association
    NYC 10023
    www.Landmark76.org

    ***The comments by this author are personal opinions that may, or may not, be shared by all members of Landmark76.

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  14. News | 03/29/2010
    Crime up 13% in B'klyn's 81st Pct. where whistleblower accused chiefs of lowering felony stats

    This article is unbelievable. The stats are testimony to the previous fudging. What a hoax the NYPD has been laying on the citizens. And the bit about Schoolcraft! He was involuntarily hospitalized for leaving an hour early?! That is criminal!

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  15. I am astonished by the reaction to what most are already aware of; always treat reported crime statistics with caution. Find me a police department anywhere in the world, or politician on a campaign trail, who will not use crime statistics to their advantage. Increase the level of reported crime to argue for more resources; decrease reports, or downgrade crime categories to measure improved performance and increase public confidence. Victim surveys may go someway to establishing accuracy. Compstat is a means to an end. It was about restoring responsibility to precinct commanders and making them accountable for their actions, from which reductions in crime should accrue. Compstat would appear to have become an end itself. Step back from crime level targets and performance, and allow precinct commanders to police, then the confidence of officers will return.

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  16. What is new with manipulating crime stats - it has gone on for years - trouble now though is the pressure on managers from government and alike caused by our obsession with performance targets and the lack of any common sense in their interpretation. If you do not achieve the targets now you are deemed a failure rather than looking at why and realising perhaps that in the surrounding circumstances one has actually achieved better than one would expected even though targets not met

    MP retired Supt Police UK

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  17. We need to push the fact that this Blog exists so that we have a centralized source of horror stories... one stop shopping.

    Particularly, I would like to see some cops get on and talk about their many opinions and experiences with the benefit of being able to do it anonymously and freely.

    Obviously from the way the NYPD has reacted to the recent criticism and the officers that have spoken out publicly, the average cop is not coming forward due to the assured retribution they will suffer.

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  18. John and Eli appear to be in the middle of the battle between truth and conventional wisdom. When pesky facts get in the way of emotion, those relying upon rhetoric and sound bites must resort to ad hominem attacks. Introducing additional facts simply invites a more vicious personal attack. Incumbent politicians and their appointees have a vested interest in supporting the conventional wisdom that placed them in positions of power. The emperor’s new clothes are made of the finest of threads and it is unfortunate that the common folks lack the vision of their superiors.
    Thus far, the battleground has been limited to the validity and reliability of crime reports. In this narrow field, even the conventional wisdom acknowledges that much crime goes unreported. The reasons for unreported crime have been identified and include some variation of the trust between the police and the public. (The police don’t want to be bothered, etc.) Given a sea change in police administration from community policing to zero tolerance, it would be reasonable to expect that police who encourage the law abiding to report crime would be more likely to capture crime data than those who focus upon arresting offenders. Proponents of community policing were prepared to explain the true level of crime can be falling while crime reports may remain constant or increase.
    The larger battlefield has been ignored, to the advantage of those in power. The main reason for accurate crime data should be to present those elected to ‘provide for the common defense’ with the information necessary to allocate and deploy limited public resources in an effective and efficient manner. ‘Information is power’ only if the person with information withholds it from others. Shared information shares power; sharing information with the public greatly diminishes the power of elected officials.
    In 1991 “Safe Streets, Safe City” legislation provided an additional $1.8 billion dollars of taxpayer funds ‘earmarked’ to specific deployment based upon a bevy of then-current precinct data. That deployment was never attained yet the funds were clearly spent. Precinct commanders were not informed as to what criteria had been used nor were they expected to address the conditions that led to funding a specific number of officers for one precinct and a different number for another precinct of similar size and complexity. Withholding that information kept power in the hands of the Police Commissioner and the Mayor. New administrations are not about to give up that power without a fight.
    The quest to promote accurate crime data is a potential attack on the political power to spend the taxpayers’ money. The New York City Police Budget is part of the general fund that politicians can draw upon to advance their own agenda as long as no one has the information necessary to hold them accountable to the public. If one looks at the history of budgeted positions and actual number of members in each rank there have always been a number of vacancies. Those vacancies represent budgeted dollars and unless the city ends the year with a surplus of dollars (fat chance) those dollars were spent elsewhere. Your questioning the accuracy of crime data is the visible tip of the iceberg that G.W. Plunkett would recognize as honest graft.
    I am not surprised they have meet with so much resistance.

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