NYPD Tapes 3: A Detective Comes Forward About Downgraded Sexual Assaults

When even attempted rapes are being downgraded to misdemeanors, is the public safe?

Of the supervisors who saw a crime complaint altered, half of them thought it was unethical. (Technically, altering a crime complaint is itself a crime, known as falsifying business records.) Supervisors spoke of precinct commanders going to crime scenes to get the victim to change his story, the survey found.

"As crime goes down, the pressure to maintain [it] got great," one retired supervisor told the professors. "It was a numbers game."

The professors conclude: "Based on our findings, crime statistics in CompStat-like jurisdictions, at a minimum, warrant careful scrutiny."

Photo illustration by Chad Griffith

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NYPD Tapes: The Series
The NYPD Tapes Part 1: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct
The NYPD Tapes, Part 2
Bed-Stuy street cops ordered: Turn this place into a ghost town
Follow continuing coverage of the NYPD Tapes here at our Runnin' Scared blog.

For his part, Hernandez, 43, now retired and living outside of New York, says he loved the job and would have stayed in the NYPD for 30 years or more, but the constant struggle over classifying crime complaints, like the Thomas case, convinced him to retire in 2007 after 20 years.

'I gained the most coveted position in the detective bureau, but I couldn't deal with it anymore," he says. "It was battling on a daily basis. You are providing a disservice to New Yorkers when you do this stuff. I used to think, 'What if it happened to a family member or a friend?' " But changing things, he says, is too difficult for any one officer. "God forbid that someone could have stopped this, but was worried about careers and numbers and percentages."

Hernandez made more than 400 arrests in his distinguished 20-year career. In 2006, he was promoted to Detective First Grade, a highly coveted and honored position in the NYPD. (At any time, there are fewer than 150 detectives first grade in a department of more than 30,000 officers.) He earned 19 Excellent Police Duty medals, four Meritorious Police Duty awards, and three commendations.

In Hernandez's view, the CompStat model made great strides in policing New York City, but at some point along the way, particularly during the long tenure of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the system became distorted into more of a contest for the right statistics—a drop in major crime complaints with a corresponding rise in quotas for summonses, arrests, and stop-and-frisks: "As time passed, there came a time for upper-management officers to attain higher rank, and they began to demand higher quotas to beat the next guy's decrease in crime," he says. "They began to make their demands known and force officers to make these quotas with the promises of choice assignments or better working conditions."

The Thomas case, Hernandez says, was just one of many questionable things he observed during his career.

He says he had a robbery case that someone downgraded to petit larceny and his signature was forged to make it appear that he himself had downgraded the crime. The forgery was discovered after a paralegal from the Manhattan D.A.'s Office obtained the case file from Police Headquarters in preparation for the trial.

In the file, there is a detective's memo, which re-classifies the robbery to a petit larceny. At the bottom of the document was a signature purporting to be Hernandez's: "It was a robbery, but when it goes downtown, it shows up as a petit larceny," he says. "The D.A. is pissed at me. She asks me, 'Are you perjuring yourself?' "

Hernandez examined the report, and was able to prove that it was not his signature by showing his true signature on other reports he had filed: "I'm saying, 'What are you talking about? This isn't my handwriting. Look at all my reports,' " he says. "Somebody forged my name. That's a crime. She agreed with me, and she was livid. And I was livid because my integrity had been questioned."

The sergeants and lieutenants in patrol now have so much influence on what is written in a criminal complaint that the detective squad may never find out about a major felony that has been misclassified. And it won't count in the seven major crimes, which are the only crime complaint numbers made publicly available. "If you classify a robbery as a petit larceny and mark it closed, it won't be assigned to the squad, and I'll never see it," Hernandez says.

It got to the point, he says, that he would enter the complaints himself into the computer system. But that still didn't solve the problem because precinct supervisors would go back into the system and alter the reports. "Or they would come to me and tell me to change it, and I would refuse because that's not a lawful order," he says. "If that didn't work, they would complain to the squad lieutenant and try to manipulate him."

Hernandez also recalls seeing grand larcenies classified as something called "theft by deception," which isn't even an actual charge in the penal code.

Every precinct has a crime analysis unit, which is yet another layer in the crime reporting process. In the old system, the complaint went from the cop to the desk sergeant to the clerks to the squad. Now, the crime analysis sergeant intervenes and has to sign off on it before it goes to the squad.

Hernandez says the crime analysis sergeant's job was to look for ways to downgrade as many complaints on the seven major crimes as possible. It happened in the so-called "124 room," a locked room in every precinct that contains the complaint files.

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1 comments
markfloridajames
markfloridajames

I came across this article about downgrading of serious crimes in Ney York when researching a proposed move here in England. As a criminal barrister I have witnessed the same process here. Assaults with bottles leading to cuts or wounds are being charged as the least serious form of assault with a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment and summary trial, rather than jury trial and a potential life sentence. And the reason .. better crime statistics and lower costs

 
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