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.


David Simon!! said...

I hope you are getting residuals for writing the first season of the Wire.

Hero to the Masses said...

I should. We came up with fudging the stats, way before Hamsterdam was a twinkle in Bunny's eye.