Friday, April 20, 2012

The Disease of Statistics: Part 2

So we left off talking about how CompStat humiliated Captains and made grown men terrified of statistics for the first time since 10th grade.  But to show you that Compstat isn't all bad, observe this graph.

So, as you can see from the graph, 1990 was not a good year for the City of New York.  The spike has been attributed to many factors, but the main one is drugs, specifically crack.  Berkley researchers gave this explanation for why crack became such a violent drug.

Evidently, crack cocaine use and distribution became popular in cities that were in social and economic chaos such as Los Angeles and Atlanta. 'As a result of the low-skill levels and minimal initial resource outlay required to sell crack, systemic violence flourished as a growing army of young, enthusiastic inner-city crack sellers attempt to defend their economic investment.' (Inciardi, 1994) Once the drug became embedded in the particular communities, the economic environment that was best suited for its survival caused further social disintegration within that city. An environment that was based on violence and deceit as an avenue for the crack dealers to protect their economic interests

2,245 murders.  That's a lot.  It's more than some natural disasters.  I remember being in high school and the Daily News running a Gun Clock on one of the pages, counting all of the people killed by handguns.  So CompStat certainly had something to do with the sharp decline.  But there are other theories Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, said that though over 50% of Americans believe that innovative policing strategies had something to do with it, it really didn't.  He listed 4 alternate reasons, being more police officers, larger prison population, the wane of the crack epidemic, and finally Roe V. Wade.  That last one landed him in hot water.  You can read the report here.  

Regardless, crime plummeted, making a terrible mayor for New York*, a golden hero for busloads of tourists from Kansas.   And here we are in 2011 with 515 murders.  In a city of 8.5 million people.  Amazing.  In an FBI chart of cities greater than 250,000, looking at murder rates per 100,000 people, New York places between Lexington, Kentucky and Long Beach, California.  Well below other places like Boston, Columbus, Buffalo, and the very dangerous Tulsa.  

So with Compstat, you're always fighting a number.  Let's take a look at this form: 

This was pulled off the web from a GIS.  You can actually go to the NYPD home page and look at the most current stats citywide and precinct-wide.  So this document, or more accurately, the numbers contained within are the gospel.  So as a Lieutenant, you'd be chasing numbers.  In this case, your number is 17.  I've literally have bosses come to roll call on a Friday and say "The number is 18, and right now we're at 14." In English this means that we could record no more than 4 felonies through the weekend to be level with where we were last year.  The reason you focus so much on the week to date is that with that secured, the 28 day will follow. 

So crime in New York City is an an all-time low, and yet there's constant pressure to keep it where it is or make it lower.  In a city of 8.5 million people, crime will happen and will rise and fall in cycles.  Surely, you can use tools to keep it under 2,000 murders a year, but this process eventually feels like squeezing blood out of a stone.  I've personally seen all kinds of chicanery, like bosses waiting to input reports until after midnight on a Monday so they don't count against the week-to-date total.  The worst was the reclassifying of crimes.  I once had a felony arrest I had made and finally got down to court on it to speak to the ADA, and I had to call and ask the precinct to fax down the report.  When the fax came through, the crime had been downgraded to a misdemeanor.  This is not good.  Because with the strike of a pen by a gentleman in a white shirt, my sworn and signed statement to the ADA was garbage.  If this went to trial, which it clearly didn't, (PROTIP: Nothing goes to trial.  Everyone pleads.  Seriously), then I'd be screwed and look like a moron.  

How, you may ask, do you reduce felonies?  Well, asides from murder, it's pretty easy.  Let's say you get burglarized.  And a real burglary, as opposed to the one I had where the guy insisted that someone climbed in his 3rd floor window and stole 2 pairs of pants and that was it, but I digress.  So your stuff gets stolen.  I arrive and ask if you have receipts for the things that were lost to prove their worth?  Oh, you don't have receipts for the jewelry you got as a gift 10 years ago?  Or the laptop?  Then, this really isn't a's more of a criminal trespass and a petit robbery.  How convenient that both of those happen to be misdemeanors.  Let me stop here and give the definition of burglary.  To enter a premises unlawfully with the intent to commit a crime therein. You don't even need to steal anything.  If I enter a house and kill you, technically I'm charged with burglary and murder.  But clearly, this definition fits the above case, no matter how much stuff was stolen.  But what do I know.  I'm just a silver shield.  

Perhaps you leave your purse in the Bank of America ATM and 10 seconds later you remember and rush back.  Grand Larceny?  Noooo.  Lost Property.  You can't prove that someone stole it.  You can't prove that your purse didn't become a sentient being and walk out of the ATM lobby.  And let me tell you that if anyone tells you they're filing a lost property report for your stuff, you can kiss that shit goodbye.  I have no idea where those complaint forms go, but I'm guessing some room in the bowels of 1 Police Plaza.  

But let's say that you just can't get the magic number lower and you're over....what happens then?  Well, you need to show that you're doing something.  For example, you're stopping and frisking people for guns.  Funny story about this.  The NYPD started using the UF-250 which is the Stop and Frisk form at the request of various groups to show who they were stopping and why.  So soon the bosses wanted 250 forms to show that the precinct was doing something to fight crime.  This led to tons of people being tossed (cop speak for being frisked) Again, this is a frisk, so I can only look for a gun or something that could hurt me.  No drugs.  No search.  Just a pat down and a waistband check.  This surge in 250 forms eventually led to a lawsuit, go figure.

Cops can also write criminal court summonses or "C" summonses.  These are given out for urinating in public or drinking in public or riding your bike on the sidewalk.  These became popular to for the bosses to show action.  So listen up kids, when you get pissed at the pigs for writing you a ticket for some bullshit like your bicycle didn't have a bell or something, the cop writing you that summons has a lot of things he or she would rather be doing.  Unless of course you're a loud mouthed DYKWIA liberal, then we actually enjoy writing you a lot of tickets.  

That's all for now.  In the third and final part of this series, I will discuss the real danger to the Job, much greater than statistics, is from within.  

* I would be happy to explain in a later post why I think Rudy Giuliani was a terrible mayor and a petulant child for 7.75 years of his mayoralty.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Disease of Statistics: Part 1

A friend of mine who is still on the Job (That's cop jargon for being an NYPD officer) posted an article from NY Magazine on his Facebook wall.  It was really well written and talked about the malaise that the rank and file of the department are feeling under Commissioner Kelly.  It talks about Compstat, but also goes deeper.
Everyone should click here to read it, if you haven't already.   Here's my take on this whole thing, for what it's worth....

Way back in time, in a NYPD far, far away, there was crime.  Lots of crime.  And you sent out uniforms on patrol to prevent it and respond to it.  And you had detectives try and clean up after it.  But if someone asked the Commanding Officer of a precinct in Brooklyn why the murders were so high, they were apt to get a response like "What can you do?  These freaking people are animals." In short,  crime was sort of like a ride you were on.  This is not to say that specific crimes, like pattern rapes or the Son of Sam for example, weren't handled without care or attention.  But the day to day crimes like burglary or assault were just a fact of life.

Fast Forward to 1994.  Bill Bratton is Police Commissioner, having spent spent time working in Boston and NYC in their transit police departments.  Bratton promoted a lieutenant named Jack Maple from Transit to Deputy Commissioner in charge of Crime Control Strategy.  Why?  Maple, in addition to being a hell of a character, loved maps.  He used them to pinpoint crimes and then moved resources based on what the patterns and maps showed him.  And thus COMPSTAT was born.  While the idea of tracking crimes by location wasn't new, there were some things that put the department on its ear.

First, the data from all crimes were fed into this centralized database and then plotted on a map.  The program allowed them to break down every possible parameter, like robberies of women over 65 between the hours of 2PM and 5PM in a particular neighborhood.  So Maple and his team would crunch these stats and then, here's the new part, call the precinct C.O.s up to explain why this crime was going on.  In front of their peers.  Literally, these guys were on the hot seat.  And it gets worse for them, because Maple who ran the sessions at first, had an earpiece that fed him answers to the questions he wanted to know.  So picture this:

You're in a room with giant screens showing your crime statistics, standing at a podium in front of the department's command staff and your colleagues and you have about 500 pages of reports and stats and anything you think they might want to know.  Maple asks "Captain, can you tell me how many criminal court summonses your precinct has written in the past month?  You start shuffling through pages and pages looking for that info.  Maple, who has the answer in his ear, "158. And can you tell me how many have been written on 118th street where the robbery pattern is?" More shuffling and sweating by you, the C.O. Maple, omniscient as ever, "1.  Captain. don't you think that we stand of better catching your suspects if we start stopping criminals in the area?" And so on and so on.

Not surprisingly, this led a lot of senior leadership to retire, as they didn't want to look stupid or be held to a standard they felt they couldn't meet.  The brass at CompStat would give you anything you wanted to fix your problems.  You could get horses, extra patrol officers, helicopters, really sky's the limit.  But in one month, God help you if your numbers haven't come down.  You could and probably would lose your command.  And in case it's not clear, losing your command is pretty much a career death sentence in the NYPD.

There's a dirty secret about Compstat.  The system only cares about the "7 Majors" which are the seven major crimes that are tracked and reported by the FBI.  And they are:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Felony Assault
  • Grand Larceny
  • Grand Larceny Auto
  • Burglary
So basically, if you commit another crime it doesn't make the list.  Funny Story Time:  Working in Harlem, a guy walked up to another guy at Popeye's on 125th St. and St. Nicholas Ave, and said "Die, Motherfucker, Die" and fired a handgun multiple times.  This being a Harlem shooting, none of the rounds struck the intended victim, instead ending up through windows and the front of the restaurant.  Patrol cops pull up, conduct an initial investigation, and determine that this was an attempted murder.  Commanding Officer arrives and says that its Reckless Endangerment, which is a silent felony.  True story.  

In the next segment I'll talk about how this laser-like focus on crimes and other things has made the Job a shell of its former self and turned officers into lackeys.  

In other news, I did make it to Natalie's funeral and got to hug George before he left for the burial.  Incredibly sad, but I was very glad to have made it and seen so many old friends, and a few retards. The redeye and the bus back late that night made for a looong travel day, but it was totally worth it.  

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Fare Well Natalie Couluris

Dear Readers,
The beautiful woman in the middle of the photo to the right is Natalie Ramratan. I stole this from her Facebook page, but I don't think she'd mind.  Natalie worked with me in the 28 Precinct when I worked for the NYPD, what seems like lifetimes ago.  When I first met her, I was totally scared of her.  We were brand new and bumping into everyone and saluting statues and running to calls on foot, and no one really liked us.  I came to find out later, that out of the two field training squads, I was placed in the Special Ed one.  But that's another story. 

Natalie could cut you down with a verbal tongue lashing or a look like no one's business.  I learned that when I made the mistake of wearing a Mount Gay rum t-shirt when we went out drinking one of the first nights.  This was a mistake.  You should understand that the subtle and intellectual humor of the NYPD does not shy from the hilarity of calling me gay.   

Later I realized why Nat was so hard on us, acting like we were idiots.  It's because we were idiots.  If I ever write this book that I haven't started and is only in my head, I will point out that while the Academy does teach you many things, it can't prepare you for working on the street or inside the precinct house.  And in reality, there was so much we didn't know and they would grudgingly teach us. 
After I proved myself, I got to be treated to the real Natalie.  Quick with a smile and a laugh, always ready to lend a hand when you really needed it and still quite able to dispense the word "dumbass" when it was appropriate. 

Then she met George. George was a quiet guy who was, and is one of the nicest, gentlest men I know.  He had this super dry humor, which combined with him not talking that much, made him hysterical.  Guys used to go to Tom's Diner for food at times.  This, for those who watch  TV, is the diner they used in Seinfeld for the exterior shots.  Anyway, it was run by Greeks, and when George was there waiting for his order, he heard the waitress say something about "these fucking cops" to the cooks.  George leaned over and said in Greek, "You should be careful what you say, because you never know who can hear it." She turned white, and the owner was apoplectic.  George never taught me more than a few curse words, which honestly is all a cop really needs. 

Natalie caught pneumonia and a kidney infection in early March and was transferred from a hospital near their home to Mt. Sinai in Manhattan.  I was just going to offer up my parent's place for him to shower or change.  (I didn't ask, but I'm sure my parents would have understood) Last night, Natalie passed away in the ICU, surrounded by her family, and then mourned by her larger family of officers.  While I am not a huge Facebook fan, it's been really special to see all of these people that I worked with, sharing their grief together. 

I haven't spoken to Natalie in over two years, since the last 28 Reunion night.  I think what makes this such a hard loss is that working with her on the 3rd Platoon (So called because it's the 3rd shift of the day, with the first being the midnights) was some of of my fondest memories on the job.  Working with my partner and some great officers and a terrific boss, it made it fun to come to work.  I miss that time.  I miss Natalie.  I am flying to LA for work this week, but I'm waiting to hear about the funeral.  I will try my hardest to go.  And if I can go, I'll be in a suit, hopefully in formation with my brothers and sisters from the 28. 

I'm not sure if there's a heaven.  And I'm not going to say that it was her time to go, because that's a lie.  But I will say that I'll never forget her.  And she is an important piece of one of the most amazing puzzles I've ever encountered in my whole life.  I love you Natalie.  I love you George and your three beautiful kids.  Many of the people in this photo would do anything for you, myself included.  Just say the word. Fare well Natalie. 

Saturday, April 07, 2012

So awesome

So as I type this, I am $60 away from my goal of $1,000.  If I can be honest, I knew I'd make my goal, mostly because I have awesome friends and family.  More impressive than me raising the money, are the kind of people who gave.  To summarize:

  • Parents: No doubt that they would give, but I liked the message that my Mom offered to give me $1,000 if I didn't do it. 
  • My girlfriend, Allyson, and her parents gave me money which was super generous.   
  • Brother: He would love to see me stuck in the air, so this makes sense.  
  • High School Buddies: Two of of my oldest friends each gave money which was pretty nice.  Jason, a friend who I haven't seen in years, also gave money
  • College friends: A great guy who certainly isn't rolling in it, gave me cash-ola.  Along with the best baker psychologist in the world.
  • Theater friends: An old friend who I studied theater with 18 years ago, and we've remained close ever since
  • Vassar Grad: I met this woman when doing an admissions fair and was reminded of how awesome Vassar was and is, as she represents all that's awesome about people.  Cait is running for charity in the Boston Marathon, which makes her a true athlete.  Give her money too!
  • Old work colleagues: My friend Mary from Public Health gave a large sum, which means I owe her a beer.  And my everlasting thanks. 
  • 2 people from a website for frequent fliers that I'm on gave me money.  Which is totally unexpected, but we did spend time together at the Kiva Do in San Francisco and bonded there.  
  • Firefighter buddies: My friend Eric, who I worked as a firefighter with in college gave me money.  He and his wife, Kelly, and his freakishly tall son are good people.  
  • An anonymous donor who is an awesome person and will be there in spirit as I drink the first cold one after my feat of useless bravery.
All told it amounts to an incredible collection of people from many different circles. I'm incredibly lucky to have lived a life that brought me into contact with all of these people.  I think sometimes if I could go back and do things differently, I might, but then I think about all of these people I would never have met.  So overall, this life, with plenty of bumps in the road, is the only road I want to be on.  

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Like Juno Beach, but Down

Friends and 8 readers,

Thanks to my friend Elizabeth, I recently found out about a charity event held by the Special Olympics of Virginia in early summer. 

This is the Crystal City Hilton in Arlington, Virginia. (Ironically located right near my old office)

I am planning on rapelling down the side of this very hotel on June 22nd and I'm trying to raise $1,000 to do it.  My Mom offered me a grand not to.  But that seemed to take the fun out of it.  So why rappel? 

I decided why not?  This activity combines charity with hotels and doing something insane.  I figure I can run a 5K or do a Polar Plunge anytime.  But how often do you get to climb down the side of a hotel and not get arrested.  You'll notice the widget (actual term) on the left of the page that chronicles my race to $1K.  If I get more, I can earn a night at the hotel or a dinner.  But if I get $2,000, I get another rapelling spot.  So someone can join me if I get enough.  So cough up a few dimes. I might spring for a costume....

If you want to give money, click here.

If you want to sign up and feel your manhood or lady parts crushed by a rigging harness, click here.