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.  

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