SUBSCRIPT: Will Chicago's 'CompstatCPS' follow New York's lead in killing crime by 'juking' the stats?
Amid an enormous amount of fanfare, and with a cast of nearly hundreds (mostly police officers), Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, and Police Supt. Gerry McCarthy hosted a December 13, 2011, media event at Police Headquarters at 35th and Michigan to introduce Chicago's media to the latest in crime fighting: "CompStatCPS." (The URL for the original Substance article, published in December 2011, is: http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=2899§ion=Article).
But the question will have to be asked at a much more local level before the cheering will make sense. Is CompStatCPS just another way of what The Wire called "Juking the stats..." That is, playing numbers games to prove things are getting better when they aren't. And while there hasn't been any major news investigation of how Chicago crime statistics are being reported lately (either from the public schools, or in general), suspicions have to be raised whenever a politically connected duo like CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy are in charge of the data that will show whether the mayor (who appointed both out of towners over local objections; McCarthy is from Newark, New Jersey, and Brizard's last position was in Rochester, New York) are in charge of the numbers. Whether the numbers become part of a numbers game that hinders actual crime fighting and gang suppression in Chicago's public schools remains to be seen.
Recently, The New York Times took a close look at the Happy Talk coming out of New York City's police and discovered a lot of the "data" were skewed by under-reporting of crime. To anyone who watched the fictional rendition of the same praxis in "The Wire" nearly ten years ago, this was no surprise. But it became news in New York as 2011 limped towards 2012. The Times story appeared at the end of 2011, in the print edition and on line on December 31, 2011.
BELOW IS THE NEW YORK TIMES STORY:
NYPD Leave Offenses Off the Books to Keep Crime Rates Down. Saturday 31 December 2011
by: Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein, The New York Times News Service
Jill Korber walked into a drab police station in Queens in July to report that a passing bicyclist had groped her two days in a row. She left in tears, frustrated, she said, by the response of the first officer she encountered.
â€œHe told me it would be a waste of time, because I didnâ€™t know who the guy was or where he worked or anything,â€ said Ms. Korber, 34, a schoolteacher. â€œHis words to me were, â€˜These things happen.â€™ He said those words.â€
Crime victims in New York sometimes struggle to persuade the police to write down what happened on an official report. The reasons are varied. Police officers are often busy, and few relish paperwork. But in interviews, more than half a dozen police officers, detectives and commanders also cited departmental pressure to keep crime statistics low.
While it is difficult to say how often crime complaints are not officially recorded, the Police Department is conscious of the potential problem, trying to ferret out unreported crimes through audits of emergency calls and of any resulting paperwork.
As concerns grew about the integrity of the data, the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, appointed a panel of former federal prosecutors in January to study the crime-reporting system. The move was unusual for Mr. Kelly, who is normally reluctant to invite outside scrutiny.
The panel, which has not yet released its findings, was expected to focus on the downgrading of crimes, in which officers improperly classify felonies as misdemeanors.
But of nearly as much concern to people in law enforcement are crimes that officers simply failed to record, which one high-ranking police commander in Manhattan suggested was â€œthe newest evolution in this numbers game.â€
It is not unusual for detectives, who handle telephone calls from victims inquiring about the status of their cases, to learn that no paperwork exists. Detectives said it was hard to tell if those were administrative mix-ups or something deliberate. But they noted their skepticism that some complaints could simply vanish in the digital age.
Detective Louis A. Molina, president of the National Latino Officers Association, said that for some officers, the desire of supervisors to keep recorded crime levels low was â€œgoing to be on your mind,â€ and that it â€œcan play a role in your decision making.â€
â€œFor police officers,â€ he added, â€œitâ€™s gotten to the point of whatâ€™s the most diplomatic way to discourage a crime report from being taken.â€
Some public officials have said they have received more complaints from constituents that their reports of crime were not being recorded. State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn said his office had to contact â€œlocal precincts directly to make sure that criminal complaints were filed and processed appropriately.â€
In the case of Ms. Korber, the police did eventually take a report of her being groped, but only after her city councilman, Peter F. Vallone Jr., intervened, she and Mr. Vallone said. In fact, Mr. Vallone said that he had grown so alarmed over how many women were being groped in his district that he contacted the 114th Precinct; his staff then asked Ms. Korber to go there again.
Paul J. Browne, the Police Departmentâ€™s chief spokesman, said each precinct must audit police responses to radio dispatches four times a month â€œto assure that crime complaints are taken when necessary and prepared accurately.â€
â€œAlleged failures to take a report of a crime are investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau and, if corroborated, the officer is subject to disciplinary action,â€ Mr. Browne said.
Additionally, Mr. Browne said the department conducted frequent audits of written reports to ensure that officers were properly classifying crimes. The most recent of those audits have found an error rate of 1.5 percent, down from 4.4 percent in 2000, he said.
The reasons for not taking a report, police officials said, can vary. Some officers seek to avoid the dull task of preparing reports; others may fear discipline for errors in paperwork. Sometimes officers run out of time because they are directed to another job.
There are certainly calls that do not merit a crime report: a victimâ€™s account of an alleged crime can be deemed dubious, for example.
However, some commanders said, officers sometimes bend to pressure by supervisors to eschew report-taking. â€œCops donâ€™t want a bad reputation, and stigma,â€ one commander said. â€œThey know they have to please the sergeants.â€ Like several other officers and supervisors, he spoke only on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The sergeants, in turn, are acting on the wishes of higher-ups to keep crime statistics down, a desire that is usually communicated stealthily, the commander said. As an era of low crime continues, and as 2011 draws to a close with felony numbers running virtually even with last yearâ€™s figures, any new felony is a significant event in a precinct and a source of consternation to commanders.
On the Upper West Side in July, a man in red shorts climbed through a window into the living room where Katherine Davis, 65, was reading the paper. She ran, a few steps ahead of him, and locked herself in an adjacent apartment, where she watched through the peephole as the man searched for her before he left.
Officers drove her around to look for the intruder, unsuccessfully. Ms. Davis asked if they could take fingerprints. But the officers said, â€œOh, no, thatâ€™s only if you have a detective, or investigation,â€ she recalled. She asked for a case number.
â€œThey said, â€˜There is no case number,â€™ â€ she said.
No one came to interview her or to seek videotape from the numerous surveillance cameras nearby, she said. That is where things ended.
â€œI just assumed it was laziness,â€ Ms. Davis said. â€œWhy bother to take a report?â€
Even when New Yorkers follow up, they are sometimes surprised to learn that their complaints were never classified as a crime. In one case, Sandra Ung, 37, went to the Fifth Precinct in Chinatown after her wallet disappeared at a Starbucks.
â€œI had it and then it was gone,â€ she said of the Feb. 23 episode. She said she believed her wallet had been stolen, but could not prove it. She assumed the police had recorded it as pickpocketing, but when she retrieved a copy of the report days later, she saw it was recorded not as a crime, but as lost property that had gone â€œmissing in an unknown manner.â€
That report also reflects the line of questioning Ms. Ung faced; it noted that â€œshe wasnâ€™t bumped nor jostled.â€
In June, the Police Department issued a guidebook that instructed officers how to categorize all imaginable variations of crimes â€” including 24 situations involving identity theft and 3 types of strangulation. Its section on pickpockets could be viewed as a rebuke to how officers handled Ms. Ungâ€™s case and possibly others like it.
The guidelines focused on the very words that the police used to discount her suspicions: â€œThe victim does not need to have witnessed, felt or otherwise been aware of being bumped or jostled in order to properly record the occurrence as grand larceny.â€
Despite the new guidelines, some critics say subtle tweaks in police protocol offer opportunities to avoid taking reports. In 2009, the department came up with a new policy that might seem inconsequential: Robbery victims would have to go to the station house to give their reports directly to a detective or patrol supervisor.
The intent was to get an investigator on the case as quickly as possible, but one police commander said supervisors were aware that another consequence could be that fewer crimes would be reported.
The policy was restored to its original form last year, with uniformed officers once again allowed to take the initial report of a robbery.
â€œA police report wouldnâ€™t get made because they make you wait in the police station for hours,â€ one commander said. Eventually, he added, the crime victim would give up and leave.
This article, "NYPD Leave Offenses Off the Books to Keep Crime Rates Down," originally appeared in The New York Times.