Last week, under public criticism, the NYPD released long-hidden statistics on lesser crimes, re-igniting questions about the extent of downgrading of major felonies, a practice we detailed in our NYPD Tapes series.
That stonewalling led some observers to charge that felony complaints were being reduced to misdemeanor complaints, either to burnish the department’s image, or to help ambitious commanders shine in the dreaded Comp Stat meetings.
Well, the numbers are out, and they raise a series of questions, according to John Eterno and Eli Silverman, two criminologists who examined the statistics and spoke with the Voice.
“These numbers are completely compatible with our theory that downgrading is taking place,” says Eterno, who is working on a book about NYPD crime statistics with Silverman.
For example, they note, how does the department explain that while burglaries dropped by 40 percent between 2001 and 2009, the number of criminal trespassing cases skyrocketed by 71 percent?
The act of reducing a burglary to a criminal trespass removes that complaint from the all-important major crime category and buries among statistics that few outside the NYPD will see.
Moreover, if the department was trying to prove once and for all that downgrading doesn’t occur, then the NYPD probably should have released the number of lost property cases recorded.
Eterno, who teaches at Molloy College, and Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College, say the act of recording a petty or grand larceny as simply a case of non-criminal lost property is a time-honored way of dispensing with a crime. For example, a man says someone lifted his cell-phone on the train. A police supervisor might dispute that and instead insist on recording the complaint as lost property.
The professors also point out that while felony assaults dropped 27 percent, misdemeanor assaults dropped only 13 percent. They claim the percentage drops should have been much more similar.
In addition, they point out that while felony rape cases dropped 37.5 percent in the period, lower level sex crimes dropped only 5 percent.
“If there was no manipulation, they should parallel one another,” Silverman says.
Inexplicably, for a little context, the department had stopped publicly disclosing those numbers way back in 2002. Reporters and academics seeking those numbers were repeatedly rebuffed or ignored. And for months, the NYPD had been saying that it could not release figures on other felonies, misdemeanors and violations because of some undefined computer glitch. (The New York Times recently had to sue the department to get them to respond to their information requests.)
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 4, 2011