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In 2010, The Village Voice produced a five-part series, the "NYPD Tapes," about a cop who secretly taped his fellow New York Police Department officers.
For more than two years, Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded every roll call at the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn and captured his superiors urging police officers to do two things in order to manipulate the "stats" that the department is under pressure to produce: Officers were told to arrest people who were doing little more than standing on the street, but they were also encouraged to disregard actual victims of serious crimes who wanted to file reports.
Arresting bystanders made it look like the department was efficient, while artificially reducing the amount of serious crime made the commander look good.
In October 2009, Schoolcraft met with NYPD investigators for three hours and detailed more than a dozen cases of crime reports being manipulated in the district. Three weeks after that meeting—which was supposed to have been kept secret from Schoolcraft's superiors—his precinct commander and a deputy chief ordered Schoolcraft to be dragged from his apartment and forced into the Jamaica Hospital psychiatric ward for six days.
In the wake of our series, NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered an investigation into Schoolcraft's claims. By June 2010, that investigation produced a report that the department has tried to keep secret for nearly two years.
The Voice has obtained that 95-page report, and it shows that the NYPD confirmed Schoolcraft's allegations. In other words, at the same time that police officials were attacking Schoolcraft's credibility, refusing to pay him, and serving him with administrative charges, the NYPD was sitting on a document that thoroughly vindicated his claims.
Investigators went beyond Schoolcraft's specific claims and found many other instances in the 81st Precinct where crime reports were missing, had been misclassified, altered, rejected, or not even entered into the computer system that tracks crime reports.
These weren't minor incidents. The victims included a Chinese-food delivery man robbed and beaten bloody, a man robbed at gunpoint, a cab driver robbed at gunpoint, a woman assaulted and beaten black and blue, a woman beaten by her spouse, and a woman burgled by men who forced their way into her apartment.
"When viewed in their totality, a disturbing pattern is prevalent and gives credence to the allegation that crimes are being improperly reported in order to avoid index-crime classifications," investigators concluded. "This trend is indicative of a concerted effort to deliberately underreport crime in the 81st Precinct."
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The investigation found that crime complaints were changed to reflect misdemeanor rather than felony crimes, which prevented those incidents from being counted in the all-important crime statistics. In addition, the investigation concluded that "an unwillingness to prepare reports for index crimes exists or existed in the command."
Moreover, a significant number of serious index crimes were not entered into the computer tracking system known as OmniForm. "This was more than administrative error," the probe concluded.
There was an "atmosphere in the command where index crimes were scrutinized to the point where it became easier to either not take the report at all or to take a report for a lesser, non-index crime," investigators concluded.
Precinct Commander Steven Mauriello "failed to meet [his] responsibility." As a result, "an atmosphere was created discouraging members of the command to accurately report index crimes."
Mauriello's lawyer and union representative say he did nothing wrong.
Some 45 members of the command were interviewed, and hundreds of documents were examined.
The implications of the report are obvious: If the 81st Precinct was a typical station house, then crime manipulation is more widespread than city officials have admitted.
John Eterno, a criminologist at Molloy College and a former NYPD captain, says that what was happening in the 81st Precinct is no isolated case. "The pressures on commanders are enormous, to make sure the crime numbers look good," Eterno says. "This is a culture. This is happening in every precinct, every transit district, and every police housing service area. This culture has got to change."
As for Mauriello, he's no rogue commander, says Eterno, who has published a book about crime reporting with John Jay College professor Eli Silverman. "Mauriello is no different from any other commander," he says. "This is just a microcosm of what is happening in the entire police department."
Indeed, it is clear from Schoolcraft's recordings that Mauriello was responding to pressure emanating from the Brooklyn North borough command and police headquarters for lower crime numbers and higher summons and stop-and-frisk numbers.
The seven index crimes—murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft—are the central public indicators of the city's crime rate and, by extension, its reputation. The crime numbers are also the bedrock in evaluating the Bloomberg administration and critical to attracting tourism and economic development to the city.
As a result, Mayor Bloomberg and Kelly have gone to great lengths to insist the crime statistics are accurate. They have publicly downplayed the Schoolcraft allegations and insisted that any "underreporting" is a tiny anomaly.