In 2010, The Village Voice produced a five-part series, the “NYPD Tapes,” about a cop who secretly taped his fellow New York Police Department officers.
For more than two years, Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded every roll call at the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn and captured his superiors urging police officers to do two things in order to manipulate the “stats” that the department is under pressure to produce: Officers were told to arrest people who were doing little more than standing on the street, but they were also encouraged to disregard actual victims of serious crimes who wanted to file reports.
Arresting bystanders made it look like the department was efficient, while artificially reducing the amount of serious crime made the commander look good.
In October 2009, Schoolcraft met with NYPD investigators for three hours and detailed more than a dozen cases of crime reports being manipulated in the district. Three weeks after that meeting—which was supposed to have been kept secret from Schoolcraft’s superiors—his precinct commander and a deputy chief ordered Schoolcraft to be dragged from his apartment and forced into the Jamaica Hospital psychiatric ward for six days.
In the wake of our series, NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered an investigation into Schoolcraft’s claims. By June 2010, that investigation produced a report that the department has tried to keep secret for nearly two years.
The Voice has obtained that 95-page report, and it shows that the NYPD confirmed Schoolcraft’s allegations. In other words, at the same time that police officials were attacking Schoolcraft’s credibility, refusing to pay him, and serving him with administrative charges, the NYPD was sitting on a document that thoroughly vindicated his claims.
Investigators went beyond Schoolcraft’s specific claims and found many other instances in the 81st Precinct where crime reports were missing, had been misclassified, altered, rejected, or not even entered into the computer system that tracks crime reports.
These weren’t minor incidents. The victims included a Chinese-food delivery man robbed and beaten bloody, a man robbed at gunpoint, a cab driver robbed at gunpoint, a woman assaulted and beaten black and blue, a woman beaten by her spouse, and a woman burgled by men who forced their way into her apartment.
“When viewed in their totality, a disturbing pattern is prevalent and gives credence to the allegation that crimes are being improperly reported in order to avoid index-crime classifications,” investigators concluded. “This trend is indicative of a concerted effort to deliberately underreport crime in the 81st Precinct.”
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The investigation found that crime complaints were changed to reflect misdemeanor rather than felony crimes, which prevented those incidents from being counted in the all-important crime statistics. In addition, the investigation concluded that “an unwillingness to prepare reports for index crimes exists or existed in the command.”
Moreover, a significant number of serious index crimes were not entered into the computer tracking system known as OmniForm. “This was more than administrative error,” the probe concluded.
There was an “atmosphere in the command where index crimes were scrutinized to the point where it became easier to either not take the report at all or to take a report for a lesser, non-index crime,” investigators concluded.
Precinct Commander Steven Mauriello “failed to meet [his] responsibility.” As a result, “an atmosphere was created discouraging members of the command to accurately report index crimes.”
Mauriello’s lawyer and union representative say he did nothing wrong.
Some 45 members of the command were interviewed, and hundreds of documents were examined.
The implications of the report are obvious: If the 81st Precinct was a typical station house, then crime manipulation is more widespread than city officials have admitted.
John Eterno, a criminologist at Molloy College and a former NYPD captain, says that what was happening in the 81st Precinct is no isolated case. “The pressures on commanders are enormous, to make sure the crime numbers look good,” Eterno says. “This is a culture. This is happening in every precinct, every transit district, and every police housing service area. This culture has got to change.”
As for Mauriello, he’s no rogue commander, says Eterno, who has published a book about crime reporting with John Jay College professor Eli Silverman. “Mauriello is no different from any other commander,” he says. “This is just a microcosm of what is happening in the entire police department.”
Indeed, it is clear from Schoolcraft’s recordings that Mauriello was responding to pressure emanating from the Brooklyn North borough command and police headquarters for lower crime numbers and higher summons and stop-and-frisk numbers.
The seven index crimes—murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft—are the central public indicators of the city’s crime rate and, by extension, its reputation. The crime numbers are also the bedrock in evaluating the Bloomberg administration and critical to attracting tourism and economic development to the city.
As a result, Mayor Bloomberg and Kelly have gone to great lengths to insist the crime statistics are accurate. They have publicly downplayed the Schoolcraft allegations and insisted that any “underreporting” is a tiny anomaly.
Kelly’s aides have also sought to marginalize Schoolcraft—to, in effect, kill the messenger. And the department has succeeded in making his life extremely uncomfortable. Schoolcraft has been suspended without pay for 27 months, he faces department charges, he was placed under surveillance for a time, and the city even blocked his application for unemployment benefits.
But the report amounts to a vindication of Schoolcraft’s claims, undermines the city’s official claims about the accuracy of the crime statistics, and confirms most of the findings in the “NYPD Tapes” series.
“He [Schoolcraft] brought to light a number of different issues related to crime reporting,” a police source familiar with the investigation tells the Voice.
In the period since Schoolcraft came forward, investigators found similar informal but taboo practices in other precincts, police sources say.
Those findings, police sources say, were the reason behind Kelly’s unprecedented departmental order in January, which reminded officers of their crime-reporting responsibilities.
Kelly never publicly acknowledged the actual reason behind issuing the order and claimed it was “routine.” His spokesman, Paul Browne, claimed it had nothing to do with concerns about underreporting of crime. But no one could remember a similar order ever being issued in the past.
Based on the findings of this broader examination, the order told cops they had to take crime complaints. They could not send victims to other precincts, discount them because they weren’t totally cooperative, reclassify a crime, delay recording a crime, or reject a crime because they didn’t think prosecutors would pursue a conviction.
These are all dodges that have evolved in the era of CompStat, the NYPD’s widely copied crime-fighting strategy, which ties career promotions to crime numbers, creating a strong incentive for commanders to downgrade reports.
But Kelly has not issued any overall examination of the accuracy of the city’s crime statistics, nor has any outside investigative agency conducted a broader probe.
Instead, the police department has pursued a strategy of stonewalling reporters and refusing to release any documents surrounding the Schoolcraft affair. Indeed, the Voice was blocked in its efforts to obtain this report through the New York State Freedom of Information Law.
The request was blocked even though at the time, the report had been completed and therefore, should have been released.
Moreover, other investigations ordered by Kelly in 2010 appear to be on an indefinite, murky schedule. A three-member panel of former federal prosecutors is more than seven months late in issuing its findings. One of its members passed away in December.
All of this suggests that Bloomberg and Kelly are simply trying to delay a full accounting until after the next mayoral election. And other agencies—such as the state attorney general—won’t address it either.
Schoolcraft alleged that commanders knew he had come forward and used the psychiatric stay to retaliate against him. For more than two years, the NYPD has publicly insisted that was not the case.
But the actual internal charges against Precinct Commander Mauriello raise new questions about that piece of the story. Mauriello, in his department charges, is accused of lying when he claimed he didn’t know about the investigation into crime reporting in the 81st Precinct.
In fact, Mauriello knew before Schoolcraft was committed, investigators found. In addition, he denied he had seen Schoolcraft’s memo book, which contained some of his allegations, when, in fact, he had seen it.
Mauriello is also charged with failing to file a report for auto theft, lying about his role in the incident, and falsely denying that he examined the precinct’s crime report every day.
Schoolcraft, who turned out to be right, now is protected only by his lawsuit against the city—for which he was criticized.
In all, 11 of the 13 cases brought to investigators by Schoolcraft were substantiated. Complaints were downgraded in an attempt to avoid index-crime classification, investigators concluded. Reports were never filed. Reports were delayed and rewritten. Victims were ignored and pressured.
• A 2008 attempted robbery was classified as misdemeanor assault. Schoolcraft had alleged in this instance that a sergeant in the precinct ordered him to downgrade the report, saying, “We can’t take another robbery.”
• A 2008 robbery was wrongly classified as a report of lost property. Schoolcraft had given investigators an e-mail from the victim who claimed he had been beaten and robbed of his wallet and cell phone by three men. But the crime complaint was changed to “lost property [because] the victim doesn’t feel he was a victim of a crime.”
Disturbingly, two officers told the victim that because he couldn’t identify his attackers, the case would be classified as lost property. That’s a direct violation of NYPD policy.
None of the precinct officers interviewed in that incident could explain how the report was changed to lost property. The complaint was upgraded to robbery. Two officers were disciplined.
•The precinct somehow “lost” the complaint for a 2009 attempted robbery. Schoolcraft has said in the past that he subsequently wrote a new report after the initial one couldn’t be found.
A precinct sergeant told the victim that he would have to return to the precinct to look at mug shots, a process that would take “several hours.” The victim said he had a job event to attend. Later, the complaint disappeared. In addition, the complaint languished for three days—a violation of a requirement that reports be “finalized” within 24 hours. A sergeant is facing department charges over the incident.
•The precinct commander ordered cops not to take a car theft. Here, the victim ran into several barriers in filing her complaint. First, an officer told her to wait a few days to see if the car reappeared. That advice delayed the investigation for two days. In addition, Schoolcraft had alleged that Mauriello ordered the female officer not to take the complaint. The officer lost five vacation days as a result of the investigation.
•In a 2009 incident, an elderly man said he was a burglary victim. When he showed up at the precinct to file a report, a sergeant told him to go to another precinct to file. Again, this is a violation of the NYPD’s own policy. It was only after a newspaper article appeared months later that a report was taken.
•A 60-year-old retired traffic agent made repeated visits to the precinct to get a complaint number for her stolen vehicle from May through June 2009. The investigation showed the report was never entered into the NYPD computer system, preventing it from being counted in the crime statistics. Investigators concluded nothing would have been done if the woman hadn’t been a former traffic agent and pressed the issue.
•In another auto theft, the victim got frustrated because she had to wait hours to file her complaint. The report was never entered in the computer system.
When she went to the 81st Precinct, the victim was told she had to go to the 79th Precinct. When she contacted the 79th Precinct, she was told she had to go to the location where the vehicle disappeared and report it to the 81st Precinct.
“She waited an inordinate amount of time, her was complaint was never investigated, nor was a complaint report ever generated,” investigators concluded.
•A man walked into the precinct to ask for his car-theft complaint report in June 2009. The report had disappeared, and a new one was made. Schoolcraft claimed that Precinct Commander Mauriello refused to accept the report.
A month later, two men were arrested for stealing the car. Only after that did 81st Precinct cops enter the report.
The victim subsequently confirmed that he felt that Mauriello was “interrogating” him and doubted he was telling the truth.
Investigators concluded that the report should have been an auto theft, not an “unauthorized use of a vehicle.” They also found that Mauriello’s account contradicted that of the victim and his cousin and wasn’t credible.
•Investigators also recommended charges against a sergeant who told officers on Mauriello’s orders not to take robbery reports if victims refused to return to the station house. Although the remark was on the Schoolcraft recordings, the sergeant initially denied ever saying that. Mauriello denied issuing any such order.
Investigators learned that no report was ever taken for the incident, which led to the sergeant’s order.
•After a woman reported a knifepoint robbery, another precinct sergeant told cops, “If no surveillance cameras show her getting robbed, she’s going to be locked up.” In essence, cops were pressuring her not to file the complaint. The victim got frustrated, and no report was filed.
Investigators concluded that two officers failed to take the report, and the sergeant failed to follow up. All three cops are facing possible charges.
As to Schoolcraft’s claims that Mauriello and one of his lieutenants repeatedly ordered cops to downgrade index crimes, investigators examined hundreds of complaints and found several dozen misclassified reports.
Even so, Mauriello and precinct supervisors still denied there was any extensive manipulation of crime reports.
A sergeant and officers told investigators that Mauriello reviewed the previous days’ crime reports, but Mauriello denied that. He also denied calling victims back himself, even though the Schoolcraft tapes and a statement by one of Mauriello’s lieutenants clearly show that he did.
Schoolcraft claimed that index crimes weren’t being entered into the NYPD computer system that tracks crime reports citywide. Investigators found, based on a seven-week sample, that was true in 7 percent of cases.
Precinct officers did upgrade some complaints, but only at the low rate of one report per week, investigators concluded. Those upgrades were often done more than a month after the incident, rendering it impossible to actually solve the crime.
“This represents a severe delay in accurate crime reporting and calls into question the motive for changing the classification” after so much time had passed, investigators wrote.
Probers found seven instances where a crime was initially called a felony, changed to a misdemeanor, and then upgraded to a felony again long afterward. Investigators wrote that they found “severe deficiencies in the overall crime-reporting process as a whole.”
Investigators found 46 crimes in all where something was not done properly, and thus did not make it into the precinct-crime stats. Twenty-five were misclassified, 16 were missing, and five weren’t entered into the system.
“The investigation revealed the lengths that some members of the command went to in order to avoid index-crime reports,” investigators concluded, going on to describe a “reluctance” to submit the reports. Since it was Mauriello’s ultimate responsibility, investigators cited a “serious failure” in his command.
“Because of this failure, an atmosphere was created discouraging members of the command to accurately report index crimes,” investigators concluded.
In all, five precinct officers, two sergeants, and Mauriello were either disciplined or charged with department infractions. Most of the command structure in the 81st was transferred. Kelly appointed one of the city’s few female African American commanders to replace Mauriello.
Deputy Chief Michael Marino, the man who ordered Schoolcraft to be committed, was also transferred.
Probers referred two of Schoolcraft’s allegations to Internal Affairs: one involving the arrests of people on minor infractions held unnecessarily in the command and released, and the other, three arrests of people who tried to turn guns in to the station house.
Schoolcraft remains under a kind of indefinite suspension without pay and lives upstate with his father. His federal lawsuit is moving along in a preliminary phase.
His lawyer, Jon Norinsberg, says the secret NYPD investigation totally backs Schoolcraft and proves that “crime reports were deliberately manipulated to create an utterly false portrait of crime levels in the precinct.”
“The fact that the NYPD knew about a report that wholly vindicated Adrian’s claims but never released it to the public—much less acknowledged its existence—is disgraceful and a complete betrayal of the trust of the people of New York,” Norinsberg says. “Rather than attacking Adrian’s credibility, the NYPD should have commended this officer’s courage in coming forward—at great risk to himself and his own career—to expose the dishonesty and fraud that was taking place at the 81st Precinct.”
Norinsberg says Commissioner Kelly’s actions “have been nothing more than window dressing.” “He has addressed the problem cosmetically but has done nothing at all to deal with the actual root of the problem: CompStat,” he says. “This is the driving force behind the NYPD’s obsession with numbers.”
Norinsberg says his office has been “flooded with e-mails from other officers who have reported downgrading and non-reporting of crime merely to pad their commander’s stats.”
“It is a gross distortion of the truth to suggest that manipulation of crime statistics occurred only in the 81st Precinct,” he says. “This is a citywide problem.”
As for the other man at the center of the story—Mauriello—he is in a sort of limbo himself. He was transferred to Bronx Transit and charged departmentally 18 months ago, but little has happened since then—much to the irritation of his lawyer and union representative.
Roy Richter, the president of the Captains Endowment Association, says that despite the broad allegations contained in the report, Mauriello is only charged with obstructing the taking of a single auto-theft report.
“It’s important to note that Mauriello was not charged in any administrative action related to the broad conclusions that are contained in the report,” Richter says. “Prior to the investigation, his command was rated very highly in previous crime-statistics audits. We will challenge the charges against him. We feel he’s been wrongly charged.”
Mauriello is on full duty in the Bronx Transit command as an executive officer. During his time at the 81st Precinct, his command won a coveted unit citation for outstanding performance, and he was promoted.
As for the charge that Mauriello misled investigators, Richter says: “He was directed to recall incidents that happened a year or more before. It’s difficult for any person or police officer or reporter to describe a timeline of events that happened 12 months previous. There was no misleading. He testified to the best of his memory at the time.”
Lou La Pietra, Mauriello’s lawyer, says his client denies the charges filed against him. “He’s a fall guy,” La Pietra says. “I don’t know why, whether it’s being done for political or litigation reasons. But he wants to move forward.”
Richter and La Pietra are critical of the department delay to bringing the case to trial. “He was served in October 2010, and they haven’t done anything more since,” La Pietra says. “The guy’s been put out to pasture 18 months. I don’t know what their bigger agenda is.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 7, 2012