Thursday, September 9, 2010

Truth versus Spin

Truth versus Spin: An Op-Ed on the NYPD's Crime Statistics From Two Criminologists

The NYPD, its acolytes, and assorted politicians' 15 year unyielding boasting and bellowing of the City's "miraculous crime drop" has constantly filled the air waves and newspaper print. However, since January of this year we notice reports of increases in violent crimes. The concurrent 'sounds of silence' are even more amazing than the previous bragging. Virtually every category of violent index crime is on the rise.

Murders, robberies, rapes, and felony assaults are all up. Eventually, we do expect the usual spin. The NYPD explanation will likely be something like 'crime is still down from years ago, we are still doing a wonderful job.' While these tales are to be expected from the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information and his spin doctors, the truth sadly may be far more disturbing.

The ominous side is that in order to silence dissenters and deny any problems, the NYPD continues to close its doors to any non-sponsored outside scrutiny. Yet the evidence of data manipulation is, at this point, overwhelming.

Our study showed that over half of commanders aware of any manipulation felt the manipulation of the reports was unethical; pressures to decrease index crime were much greater during the Compstat era; and the pressure to maintain integrity in crime statistics was greater in the pre-Compstat era. This study was released in early February 2010.

The NYPD and its allies' reactions were predictable. We were roundly attacked in the media (with the exception of the Village Voice and a few other outlets). Numerous editorials and the like tried to paint our study as "flawed". Since then, our study was published in a well respected scientific peer reviewed journal (International Journal of Police Science and Management). This stands in stark contrast to the non-peered reviewed writings that the NYPD relies on to support its claims of purity and integrity.

Furthermore, the subsequent evidence supporting our findings has been nothing short of overwhelming. Graham Rayman's expose on the NYPD Tapes was particularly revealing and supportive of almost every aspect of our initial study.

Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft of the 81 Precinct secretly recorded roll calls in which, for example, one can clearly hear supervisors saying not to take crime reports for robbery if victims are not willing to go to the station house.

Such statements indicating crime manipulation were commonplace on these tapes. Further evidence unearthed by Rayman included an attempted rape victim's report being classified as "forcible touching," Detective First Grade Harold Hernandez of NYPD capturing a serial rapist and finding previous reports were not listed as rape but as criminal trespass and the like.

Yet another tape has surfaced from another precinct showing similar manipulation (see ABC News Investigations. ABC also had another officer come forward with even more allegations of crime manipulation.

Our recent research examined hospital assault data showing that emergency room visits for assault have steadily increased since 1999 (including firearms and cutting instrument assaults).

We also have examined non-index crime steadily increasing until 2001 with a slight drop in 2002 (the last year the NYPD reported its non-index crimes. The fact that the NYPD abruptly ceased to provide non index crimes is emblematic of its relentless resistance to transparency).

Our study reported that commanders' perceptions were that NYPD brass really did not care as much about crime data integrity during the Compstat era compared to the previous era. Shortly after our study was reported in February, the Captain's Endowment Association president wrote to its members: "There is inordinate media interest surrounding the Compstat process. If you are discovered to have intentionally misclassified a crime report you will be made an example of. This type of misconduct will cause permanent damage, and potentially the end of your career. Suffering through a 'bad Compstat' is a much more desirable fate." Roy T. Richter, President, CEA Newsletter Volume III, Issue 2 March 2010. P. 3.

Recent media attention combined with several lawsuits (i.e., Schoolcraft, Center for Constitutional Rights), however, may have also propped up a belated NYPD push for accuracy.

While undoubtedly the spin doctors will play their games, our take is that our research and the media attention surrounding it are hopefully making a difference. That difference is good for crime victims, crime analysts, and police officers in the field, detectives, and the entire NYPD.

Let the detectives investigate, the officers on the street take reports, let those on the front lines help victims and not turn them away (e.g. robbery, rape, victims), let the cops do their job, and, most importantly, if NYPD is so confident in its accuracy, open the books and let outsiders investigate - transparency is what democracy is all about. Those who balk are devoted to deception and cover up.

John A. Eterno, Ph.D. is Associate Dean and Director Graduate Studies in Criminal Justice at Molloy College in Rockville Center, New York. He is a retired NYPD Captain and the author of Policing within the Law and co-author of Police Practices in Global Perspective.

Eli B. Silverman, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is a well-known expert on CompStat and the author of NYPD Battles Crime.

This article appears in its entirety in the Village Voice.

Our second peer reviewed article


New York Times Confirms NYPD Lack of Transparency

Murray Weiss speaks out in support of our theme

NYPD's Oil Spill

Eterno/Silverman discuss findings with ABC news.

Schoolcraft story on This American Life

Levitt on Schoolcraft

Questions about Assault Statistics appears in New York Times

Schoolcraft on ABC News

Possible Chicago Crime Manipulation

Further Support

More Revelations

Len Levitt Responds to Daily News Editorial

Cover Up of Statistics

Charge of NYPD Commander for Fudging Stats

Article on Data Manipulation New York and Elsewhere

Officers accused of data manipulation

AP story on Schoolcraft

Cops and Al Baker discuss manipulation of stats


  1. Crime Statistics, by themselves, are extremely boring! Crime may be up, down, or sideways and it makes little difference to the individual who gets assaulted on his/her way to work or is afraid to go home through a deserted street at night.
    The true purpose of reporting crime should be to allocate public resources where there is the greatest threat to public safety. Willie Sutton robbed banks because that's where the money was. Police should be deployed where crime is most likely to occur. City-wide crime statistics may indicate crime is down, but individual neighborhoods may have a vastly different view of the crime problem than the official stance. Some neighborhoods get police service. Some get police protection. Some neighborhoods simply get policed.
    Incumbent politicians and their appointed commissioners have a vested interest in promoting an illusion of safety to address a community's perception of crime. The illusion of safety relies upon statistical data that may fly in the face of reality. As Grocho Marx said - "who are going to believe - me or your own eyes?"

  2. No surprise here. I've long believed that law enforcement agencies would be far better off if they never released their crime statistics to the public. They've always been manipulated - I call them Poisoned Police PR Stats - to make your local police look good.

    As for CompStat, I'll bet that the NYPD distortions are practiced in all the other cities using this program. I'm even willing to bet they did it in Los Angeles right under Chief Bratton's nose.