By Michael Cohen
FBI officials will hear excerpts from the recordings of police bosses’ harangues at street cops to manipulate crime stats, revealed in the Voice’s NYPD Tapes series, when two criminologists present their research at a crime data conference at John Jay College later today.
Professors John Eterno and Eli Silverman will use the tapes recorded by NYPD whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft, and detailed by the Voice’s Graham Rayman in his five-part and ongoing series, to support the findings of their study. The two concluded that the NYPD’s crime-tracking method, known as CompStat, pressures police to distort crime statistics.
They argue that top-down pressure for positive-looking numbers leads to abusive policing and downgrading of crime reports.
“NYPD management creates an enormous fear,” their study says. “If your numbers go up in your command, say goodbye to your career.”
“It’s a department-wide phenomenon,” said Eterno, of Molloy College, who is a retired NYPD captain, “not just one precinct.”
At the two-day conference sponsored by the FBI’s statistical division, Criminal Justice Information Services, Eterno and Silverman will talk about unethical manipulation of crime data and use the tapes, along with other Voice reporting, as examples.
They plan to use clips from Schoolcraft’s roll-call recordings, in which officers are told not to take reports of robberies unless victims are willing to go to the station house or if they think the district attorney will not prosecute.
They’ll also talk about the attempted rape of Debbie Nathan as well as the story of Detective First Grade Harold Hernandez, according to an advance copy of their presentation. Nathan was sexually assaulted in an upper Manhattan park, but initially the police classified the incident as a misdemeanor. Hernandez uncovered a pattern of sexual assault/robberies that had been classified as misdemeanors. His work led to the conviction of a sexual predator and a 50-year prison sentence.
Their study, based on data and on interviews with hundreds of retired cops, shows that supervisors have felt less pressure for integrity of crime stats since the CompStat era began in 1994.
The professors have been criticized because of the anonymity of their survey subjects. But their study results have been validated by the revelations of Schoolcraft, Hernandez and now of Adil Polanco, a former Bronx officer who also recorded his supervisors, as reported in part 5 of the Tapes series.
The presentation includes other anecdotal evidence, such as a critical article written by a PBA member in 2004 and quotes from their survey respondents.
“It was a matter of spiking,” one former officer said, referring to a sharp increases in crime, “then apply the letter of the law . . . try to find something to legitimately knock down crimes.”
Eterno and Silverman will also discuss the increase in lesser, or “non-index,” crimes, which they say, coupled with a decrease in major, or “index,” crimes, suggests some manipulation of the numbers.
Non-index crimes – anything other that murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, grand larceny and auto theft – steadily rose from 781,000 in 1997 to 911,000 in 2001. The next year, the NYPD stopped reporting data about non-index crimes.
They also point to a rise in emergency-room assaults, while the NYPD reports a drop in criminal assaults, as an indication of crime-stat manipulation. Assaults reported to hospital emergency rooms increased from about 25,000 in 1998 to over 45,000 in 2006 while NYPD reported a drop in felony assaults from 28,000 in 1998 to 16,000 in 2008.
“As long as the system demands that numbers rule,” says Silverman, a professor at John Jay College, “there will be incentive to manipulate them.”
They say that the department needs to listen to the lower echelons of officers and get back to a service-oriented philosophy rather than an obsession with crime control.
The Voice has contacted the NYPD’s top officials for comment, but has not gotten a response.