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Policing By the Numbers

September 6, 2013 07:42:01 am
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By David J. Krajicek

Photo by Nick.Allen, via Flickr

On Halloween Night 2009, a disillusioned New York City cop named Adrian Schoolcraft was hauled out of his Queens apartment by police commanders and committed against his will to a hospital psychiatric ward. He had been labeled an emotionally disturbed person—an “EDP,” in New York cop-talk.

Like a character in a Kafka story, Schoolcraft spent six days locked away while his father, Larry, frantically sought his release.

The reason for Schoolcraft’s “disturbed” label?  In the midst of a conflict with his bosses over a poor work evaluation, he had left his post 45 minutes that day without authorization. Hours later, a dozen police supervisors—from a deputy chief on down—were pounding at his door.

Schoolcraft, who joined the New York Police Department (NYPD) in 2002 at the urging of his mother, inspired in part by 9/11, was a contrarian and outsider in a job which requires a rigid adherence to the chain of command. He found himself in conflict with his Brooklyn precinct commanders over what they called “productivity” and he called quotas.

Under pressure to write more summonses, make more arrests and perform more stop-and-frisk searches, Schoolcraft began using a recorder to secretly document what he saw as systematic manipulation of statistics to minimize crime and maximize arrests.

Over 18 months, he recorded 1,000 hours of police conversations, everything from roll-call marching orders to his own detention on Halloween. Repeatedly, his recordings captured police bosses explaining the extraordinary pressure every cop was under to reduce crime statistics--if not crime.    

Schoolcraft griped that NYPD’s CompStat program, which became a template for police across the country, transformed the job into NYPD Inc.— law enforcement factory work where productivity (arrests and summonses) was the sole measure of competence. As an NYPD sergeant explained to subordinates on one of Schoolcraft’s tapes, “It’s all a game, ladies and gentlemen. We do what we’re supposed to do; the negative attention goes somewhere else.”

Schoolcraft, who never returned to the NYPD after his trip to the psych ward, filed a $50 federal lawsuit against police and the hospital where he was held. A civil trial is expected this fall.

Graham Rayman, a Village Voice reporter who was the first to report details of the recordings, writes about Schoolcraft’s case in a new book, “NYPD Tapes: A Shocking Story of Cops, Cover-ups, and Courage” (Palgrave Macmillan), that explores modern law enforcement’s obsession with statistics. 

In a chat with TCR contributing editor David J. Krajicek, Rayman, 46, discussed Schoolcraft’s battle with NYPD management, how CompStat has changed U.S. law enforcement, and why much of the press missed the message of Schoolcraft’s story.

 

The Crime Report: The phrase “police culture” crops up often in your book. What is the prevailing police culture today?

Graham Rayman: Of course it differs from department to department, depending on size and mission. In the NYPD, after 20 years of CompStat, this numbers-driven ideology is deeply ingrained in its fabric. A whole generation of commanders has come up in CompStat, their career success tied to showing good numbers. Thus, you see the draining of the discretion that police officers once used far more. Now, it's often about what the spreadsheet says.

TCR: Schoolcraft didn’t have the “go along to get along” mindset.  Like many whistleblowers, he was headstrong. Was he destined for conflict with his bosses?

GR: Well, he may have been. A Texas native, he had no ties to the city. He was unmarried. He wasn't a joiner. He didn't like bars, drinking, bowling or any of the fraternal activities that bond cops together. He didn't particularly want overtime. He didn't have a mortgage or kids to support. He had no real friends in the NYPD. He joined the force reluctantly. Adrian's mother had died of cancer. 

In short, the NYPD had none of the management tools to control him.

However, for the first few years of his career, he was well-liked by his bosses. He went along with the program, and was sometimes called "The Hammer." Then, his first precinct commander left, and a new one came in who was much more focused on the numbers-driven philosophy. That commander started to squeeze him. All of these things together led to his disaffection with the job, and his personal life allowed him to begin to push back and eventually to start taping.

TCR:  Your story has a number of antagonists, including NYPD Deputy Chief Mike Marino, who saw himself as a supercop and who fumed over “zeroes” like Schoolcraft. What motivated Marino?

GR: Marino is in many ways a product of CompStat. He embraced the numbers-driven theory—in fact, making it the bedrock of each of his commands. In the 75th Precinct (Brooklyn), he thought cops were so lazy that he toured the precinct himself and then instituted a quota in writing. "I set a standard that said ‘do your job or suffer the consequences,’ " Marino once explained. That's him in a nutshell.

TCR:  Briefly describe CompStat.

GR: Compstat is a crime fighting strategy that had several major components: careful tracking of statistics via computer spreadsheets (timely intelligence), flooding a high crime area with cops in response to the numbers (quick reaction), monthly meetings with precinct commanders to question their crime strategies (relentless follow-through and accountability). The strategy was credited with the sharp crime decline in the city, though it had flaws which are examined at length in the book…Jack Maple was a New York transit cop who initially came up with the broad outlines of the strategy and, as an NYPD deputy commissioner, he helped develop a more sophisticated version under Mayor Rudy Giuliani's first commissioner, William Bratton.

TCR:  And how did CompStat change the job for the average cop?

GR: One major change was that their "activity"—summonses, arrests, stop and frisks, and community visits, among many other categories—was examined carefully, and they were held accountable for those numbers. The second was that their discretion—the ability to give warnings or make decisions on the spot—was taken away and replaced by constant second-guessing from supervisors.

TCR: When I covered the NYPD during the crack scourge, stats were released on a time-delayed basis—usually late on a Friday afternoon, when no one would notice. We’d get June crime stats in September. Before Maple, had it not occurred to the NYPD that timely analysis of crime stats might be important?

GR: According to Bratton, there was indeed a several month delay in the compilation of crime statistics, which in hindsight seems incomprehensible. The general concept of responding to crime hot spots with more cops had been around for a long time. Perhaps what changed was those decisions were left more to the precinct commanders. Under Bratton, those decisions were centralized and headquarters was much more involved. In addition, computer spreadsheets became a lot more sophisticated, and that, along with the Internet, sped up their ability to read and respond.

TCR: Your book documents the extraordinary lengths to which NYPD bosses went to minimize crime through statistical manipulation, including cops refusing to take crime reports or downgrading felonies to violations or misdemeanors. What was their motivation?

GR: This is where that flaw in CompStat comes into play. As crime went down, commanders were still under pressure to continue to show declines, and their careers were increasingly tied to those numbers. And so they evolved a lot of different techniques to reduce their crime numbers: declining to take reports, sending victims to other precincts, adding administrative obstacles, rewriting crime reports filed by patrol, reclassifying felony reports as misdemeanors, holding reports over from one week to the next, etc.

This sort of gamesmanship was most prevalent in (1) the statistically larger categories, like grand larceny, burglary and assault, more so than murder, rape and robbery, and (2) in crimes that were the most unlikely to be solved: cases with little evidence where the victim could not identify any suspects.

The flaw in CompStat is that if you tie everything, including promotion, to the numbers, you give strong motivation for commanders to cheat. Underlings want to please (managers) for their own career advancement, so they too have motive to cheat.

TCR: How many law enforcement agencies now use some version of the CompStat?

GR: As John Eterno and Eli Silverman note in their book, The Crime Numbers Games, "CompStat hit police executives all over North America like a powerful narcotic."  Maple and many other former NYPD officials either took commands or acted as consultants in other cities, which adopted versions of CompStat: Baltimore, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Nashville, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco, St. Louis, Providence, Syracuse, Dallas, Washington, Broward County, Fla. It even spread to the U.K., Scotland and Australia.

TCR: And a number of those cities—Dallas, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, for example--have had their own scandals over manipulation of crime statistics. Is this an endemic problem?

GR: It's evidence of the underlying flaw that I've been touching on here. Focus it all on the numbers and people start cutting corners. It's just easier to do and makes everyone look good, except for the victims of crime. Indeed, many other cities have had similar issues. Baltimore actually suspended its CompStat meetings as a result. Philadelphia was forced to reclassify nearly 2,000 rape reports which had been buried under an obscure classification. In England, a Home Office report showed significant underreporting of crime.  Same in Victoria, Australia.

TCR: The subject of secret police quotas has been an evergreen news story. Why are police departments so stubborn about admitting that cops are expected to reach quotas—or “minimum productivity goals,” as the NYPD flack called them?

GR: Indeed, the first line of dialogue in the 1973 movie "Serpico" comes from a desk sergeant saying "We want summonses, summonses, summonses."

Under New York State law, quotas—tying "productivity" to punishment—are illegal. Admitting the existence of quotas would expose the NYPD to a massive lawsuit from the unions. More than that, I don't think the perception that quotas run the department is something the police would want out there. In addition, people given summonses could sue, saying they were just targeted because the cop had to hit his number.

TCR: You wrote that Schoolcraft had trouble finding someone in the media to take his complaints seriously. How did he find you?

GR: He was unhappy with an initial portrayal in one of the tabloids, particularly a picture of him that wasn't flattering, and he wanted a much longer report on his story. He reached out to a former editor of mine, and he wound up sending me a very brief email with a snippet of tape. The tape was of a sergeant ordering cops not to take robbery reports if the victim refused to come to the precinct right away. That was outrageous by itself. But I needed the context. So I asked him, "How much tape do you have?"

"Oh, about 1,000 hours," he said. I almost fell over.

TCR: You ended up writing six long stories and many blog items about the “NYPD Tapes” for the Village Voice. How did the NYPD react?

The NYPD stonewalled my requests for comment. But Police Commissioner (Raymond) Kelly did a series of things in response to my articles. He opened investigations, he filed charges against the precinct commander, he transferred Chief Marino, he transferred the command structure of the 81st Precinct (in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where Schoolcraft worked), and he created a three-member crime stats review panel. He also issued a couple of department orders sternly reminding cops not to play around with crime reports.

He has also kept Schoolcraft suspended without pay for longer than any cop in NYPD history. He could have fired him within five days after Schoolcraft failed to report to work.

The department also buried a key report that substantiated most of Schoolcraft's claims about crime- report manipulation in the 81st precinct. That report didn't come out until I was able to get a copy from sources 18 months after it was complete. In general, I believe that Kelly has pursued a strategy of slowing the story down to blunt its impact.

TCR: And how did the “rapacious” (to use your word) New York police press corps react to your scoop?

GR: I don't know the editorial thinking behind how the story was covered. But it seemed to me that some of the outlets missed the message because they were too focused on the idiosyncrasies of Schoolcraft, the man. While the story was covered somewhat, it didn't get the full court press that it might have gotten 20 years ago, as Richard Steier, editor of the Chief (a New York union newspaper) noted recently.

TCR: You write that Schoolcraft withdrew to upstate New York and at some point stopped communicating with you. Has he reacted to the book?

GR: He has a pending lawsuit and has gone quiet as a result. During the three-year course of the story, Schoolcraft had previously gone quiet as well. I have yet to hear his reaction to date, but I assume I'll hear from him eventually.

TCR: In its internal investigations, the NYPD corroborated many of Schoolcraft’s allegations. But has anything changed? Do you trust the veracity of NYPD crime statistics more today than in 2009?

GR: Again, there's been no comprehensive examination of the crime stats by an outside body. Kelly's crime stat panel did come back with conclusions which found a mixed picture, but they only really looked at four precincts. You can look at my story on it and the report itself.

David J. Krajicek is co-editor of Crime & Justice News and a contributing editor of The Crime Report. He writes “The Justice Story,” a weekly true crime feature, for the Sunday New York Daily News, where he formerly worked as police bureau chief. He is also criminal justice editor of WhoWhatWhy.com.

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Posted by Mark
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 01:47

Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Perhaps that explains why Puerto Rico consistently has the lowest rape statistics in the US?

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