Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is facing new questions about the validity of the NYPD’s crime statistics.
The NYPD crime stats have become probably the most important indicator of the city’s health, as least in the public sphere. Mayor Bloomberg never misses an opportunity to say crime is down. Ever. So, when all three major dailies come up with articles that raise questions, we should take note.
Each article highlights a problem that has cropped up periodically over the years: the downgrading of felonies to misdemeanors by precinct commanders under unrelenting pressure to keep crime down…
The NYPD tracks seven “major” crimes: murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand larceny and auto theft. While those crimes may seem pretty straightforward, there are many ways, excepting murder, to manipulate their definitions to classify them as lesser crimes.
For example, simply listing the value of a stolen item as lower than $1,000 allows a precinct to classify a grand larceny as a misdemeanor. An assault might be classified as a misdemeanor if no suspect can be identified. Whether these kinds of things occur frequently has never really been determined.
But on Feb. 2, Daily News police bureau chief Rocco Parascandola reported that the NYPD is currently investigating whether the precinct commander in Brooklyn’s 81st Precinct downgraded crimes or refused to take complaints.
The News quoted a former police officer named Adrian Schoolcraft who had reported allegations of manipulation of the statistics to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
The News report led to calls from a city councilman for hearings on the allegations. The councilman, Peter Vallone, told the News that cops have told him the stats are manipulated, but none of them will testify for “fear of retribution.”
In yesterday’s New York Times, William Rashbaum reports that more than 100 retired NYPD captains and supervisors told a survey that the intense pressure to produce yearly crime reductions led some of them to downgrade criminal complaints.
Rashbaum says the captains said they knew of instances where precinct commanders or aides went to crime scenes to persuade victims not to file a complaint or urge them to change their accounts to allow for them to be downgraded.
In his response to the survey, police spokesman Paul Browne told Rashbaum that a report by the state comptroller’s office and an NYU study in 2006 found the statistics to be reliable. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has in the past said that the NYPD constantly audits the numbers to make sure they are accurate. Browne said crimes are misclassified about 1.5 percent of the time.
Browne suggested that the retired cops may have been repeating rumors or what they heard about the “relatively rare instances that gained notoriety.” One of the professors involved in the study called that notion “ludicrous.”
Interestingly, the New York City Comptroller has never done an audit of the NYPD’s crime stats.
Moreover, when the city commission created to oversee the NYPD tried to examine the crime stats, Kelly refused to cooperate.
Finally, in yesterday’s New York Post, Phil Messing, Larry Celona and James Fanelli report that an NYPD captain at the 9th precinct was forced to retire after he downgraded 23 grand larceny felonies to misdemeanors in early 2008. He claims he did it because he was under so much pressure to show crime declines.
The captain, James Arniotes, told the Post, “You’re under pressure because you have to stand in front of the lectern and talk about grand larceny suppression.”
The Post also reported that the NYPD Evidence Collection Team in Staten Island do not enter their findings if cops don’t issue the victims a police report, thus eliminating burglaries from the numbers.
And sergeants at roll call no longer remind cops to report all crimes.
And officers make it difficult for victims to file complaints by, for example, asking for serial numbers and receipts for stolen items, and refusing to file reports unless those items had been produced.