Marquez Claxton spent 20 years as a police officer and a detective in the NYPD, most recently in Williamsburg’s 90th Precinct. He retired as a detective second grade. He worked in narcotics as an undercover, in vice, in domestic violence, and was involved in the investigation of thousands of cases.
Claxton spoke to the Voice this week about the effect of quotas on policing in New York City and about the extent in the NYPD of downgrading or not taking crime complaints — the main issues raised in the first installment of the newspaper’s series, “The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy’s 81st Precinct.”
“Quotas have always been a part of the Police Department for as long as I was a member,” says Claxton, now the director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance. “What makes it worse is now there are quotas on everything.”
The CompStat model means numbers alone gauge the success of crime fighting. “It’s like factory work,” he says. “The difficulty is that you can’t quantify prevention. There is no number which says I stopped seven burglaries today. People have made careers out of summonses and arrests, but that’s not even the main component of police work.
“A lot of cops come on the job to have relationships with the community, to be public servants,” he says. “But in today’s PD, the officers are ostracized unless they have their numbers. You’re punishing officers who say their job is not to be the hammer.”
The other problem with quotas is that it takes the discretion away from street cops. “Not everybody who violates a rule needs to be summonsed,” he says. “You can talk to them. You can give them a warning.”
Claxton says there is some level of manipulation of crime statistics “in every precinct in the city,” he says.
He says the policy in the 81st Precinct of refusing to take robbery complaints unless the victim came immediately to talk to the detectives is commonplace.
As the Voice reported, the policy seems to ignore the fact that some people find it difficult to go to a station house, like mothers who have young children, or people who have to work.
Claxton says he witnessed precinct bosses telling cops not take a complaint if the complainant doesn’t have ID. The problem was that a lot of people don’t have ID, especially immigrant crime victims who simply won’t file a report if it means risking their immigration status.
Moreover, the practice of calling crime victims to question them about the validity of their complaints is also common, Claxton says. “That’s a way of life on the job,” he says. “In every precinct, there are crime analysis units. They do callbacks.”
Here’s how it worked, he says. “A police officer would take a report for a robbery, hand it in, and then they would call the victim behind the police officer’s back to try to get the complainant to say something different.”
He described a typical method used to downgrade a burglary: A man comes home to find his door open and his laptop gone. He files a report and it’s initially classified as a burglary.
Then, crime analysis calls the man, Claxton says, and confirms that the door was open. Thus, the burglary is classified as a lost property. Or, they will classify the case as a larceny and a trespass, and then find a way to value the laptop at less than $1,000 to make it a misdemeanor larceny.
The NYPD only releases statistics on the 7 major crimes, which are murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft. “That way, you reclassify crimes into areas where there is no public scrutiny,” Claxton says.
Claxton proposes that crime victims be given a receipt, which actually allows them to track what happened to the case and how it was classified.
The Voice asked Claxton about what is supposed to be a check on crime stat manipulation: the detective squad. The squad is supposed to check each complaint to make sure it was classified properly by patrol, and if necessary, reclassify it.
“It’s a weak check,” he says. “A few years ago, they gave precinct commanders more authority over the detective squad. And so, if a detective reclassifies a crime, then you’ll have the precinct commander challenging you, going to the squad commander, your boss, to complain.”
“You say to yourself, ‘If I change it, how will it affect my career?’ “
Claxton backs an independent audit of the crime stats, saying it’s a matter of public safety. “It’s in everyone’s best interest,” he says. “If you give people a false sense of security, you create more victims.”