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Molloy College professor John Eterno is skeptical of NYPD statistics, but he does think there is an increase in overall crime.
Questions about the accuracy of NYPD crime statistics erupted in 2010 with a number of articles—including a series in the Voice—that examined cases of police downgrading crimes or refusing to take complaints in order to show decreases in their precincts. The easiest crime category to manipulate is grand larceny, which is based on the value of a stolen item. Grand larceny is also the category that is showing the largest increase this year.
"I have no doubt that crime is inching up, but regardless of what they are reporting, it's hard to read anything into these numbers until someone outside the department seriously examines them," Eterno says. "And most importantly, the NYPD can do integrity testing, which is something they did for the ticket-fixing scandal. Underreporting of crime is much more serious."
Eterno and his colleague at John Jay College Eli Silverman released a study over the summer based on interviews with 1,900 retired police officers of all ranks. That study found that pressure increased in the Bloomberg era to manipulate crime complaints, and more than eight in 10 said they had fudged reports. That pressure emanated from CompStat meetings in which unit commanders were harangued to lower their stats.
Eterno and Silverman memorably quote one commander who told them that a deputy commissioner gave a seminar in downgrading crimes. He told them, the officer said, to "consolidate burglaries . . . make reporting a crime difficult to discourage victims from following through, [discourage] schools from reporting thefts ... shred reports for those with no insurance ... classify retail items at wholesale value ... [change] attempted assault to reckless endangerment."
In January 2011, Kelly announced the creation of a panel of former federal prosecutors to look into whether the crime statistics were accurate. The review was supposed to take three to six months. It has now been 21 months with no report and no indication of when the review will be completed.
As for that big increase in crime in Sheepshead Bay's 61st Precinct, Captain John Chell, the precinct commander, told the Voice that the struggle is against its own success. "For a while, the 61st Precinct was leading the city in crime reduction," he says. "We were just so low at one point we had to bounce back."
Chell says the economy is driving the citywide increase. "Crime in the city has been dropping for years. It has to bounce back. It's the same as the precinct," he says.
Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, who represents the Rockaways, where the 101st Precinct is showing that 44 percent increase, says a boom in development and population growth in the area is a good thing but has also had a negative effect. "It's what the mayor calls the problem of our success," he says. "Rockaway has been growing by leaps and bounds, and with that comes crime."
Goldfeder added that a decline in staffing in the two precincts that cover the district hasn't helped. "Our staffing levels at precincts all across Queens are at an all-time low," he says. "Our commanders have been doing a tremendous job despite that. I would hope those cuts are proportional, all across the board."
Back in West Harlem, Derrick Haynes, the community activist, showed a reporter around the neighborhood and offered his own theories on why violence increased again after that period of relative calm. He showed the bodega where kids from the rival developments cross paths and highlighted the lack of activities for them.
"We used to have an arrangement where kids from Manhattanville would go play on the outdoor courts at Grant, and kids from Grant would play in the community center at Manhattanville, and it worked," Haynes says. "But then, the community center was closed for five years for renovations that were only supposed to take one year, and the outdoor courts at Grant fell into disrepair. Those things started the conflict all over again."
Haynes described incidents that started as name-calling among kids and eventually escalate to gunfire. Two weeks ago, a Grant youth was stabbed by a Manhattanville kid, who was caught outside the same bodega.
"Now, the community center is open again, but the kids from Grant won't go because of all the fighting," he says.
Haynes then took the reporter to an enduring symbol of this lack of action to deal with the violence: a large asphalt playground at Manhattanville. He paused and pointed to the painted lines of a basketball court. "Notice anything?" he asked.
"There are no hoops," the reporter replied.
"That's right. They built a court but forgot the baskets, and it's been that way for years," he said.
Some time ago, the community reached an agreement with Columbia University, which is building a massive technology campus on the western end of 125th Street. The school pledged $3 million to the two housing complexes for community programs. That money has been tied up in red tape for more than a year, and only recently has any movement taken place. Haynes would like to fund an after-school program, athletic programs, and a construction-job training program.