Eterno and Silverman, Criminologists, Say NYPD’s Crime Stat Manipulation A Factor In Recent Corruption Scandals


Criminologists Eli Silverman, of John Jay College, and John Eterno, of Molloy College, offer one of their periodic opinion pieces about the NYPD. This one is about the intersection between the recent police corruption scandals and what they call the “distorted use of and lack of transparency of Compstat.”

by Eli B. Silverman, Ph.D. and John A. Eterno, Ph.D.

Recent NYPD corruption, ticket fixing, and other scandals have cast doubt on the ability of the department to police itself. This has re-kindled numerous governmental, political, and media calls for external monitoring and oversight of the department’s anti-corruption efforts.

Independent oversight and monitoring is necessary but by no means sufficient. It will not, by itself, solve the problem since it ignores the core of the trouble – the distorted use of and lack of transparency of Compstat-the NYPD’s crime strategy performance management system and its manipulated crime statistics.

When the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption was rebuffed in its efforts to investigate crime statistics in 2005, the Police Commissioner maintained that this was outside the Commission’s jurisdiction, the Mayor agreed and the panel chairman resigned shortly thereafter.

This defensive support of a warped version of Compstat has major consequences for the NYPD’s ability to reform itself. One upshot is a virtually exclusive focus on crime statistics regardless of how it is achieved as revealed in recordings made by Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft and other police officers. When crime control becomes the be all and end all, then the ends justifies the means. This entails headquarters’ quotas for summonses, arrests and others enforcement activities. It also means almost 700,000 stop and frisks in predominantly minority neighborhoods in this year alone.

An ends justifies the means crime statistics outlook easily spills over into other areas. The manipulation of crime statistics can contribute to a culture of cynicism in the department. When supervisors are playing games with the crime data whether outright fraud or manipulation that falls into a gray area of legality, this can undermine any efforts to create a culture of integrity.

Is it any wonder that cops may view ticket fixing within the ethical framework of a “courtesy?” This view is consistent with our survey findings that commanders perceived lesser pressure for integrity of crime data once Compstat began.

This survey of retired NYPD Commanders, first reported in February 2010, revealed that since 1995, the first full year of Compstat’s operations, commanders felt pressure to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors. Others have also attested to manipulation of crime figures.

Additionally, and equally important, when crime micromanagement dominates the daily agenda, corruption control and other non crime control police responsibilities barely enter the NYPD’s radar screen. As political and police leadership only measure themselves by publicly reported crime statistics, any outside attempts to examine leadership operations are rebuffed.

As far as the NYPD is concerned, there is only one center stage; its name is Compstat and other activities are relegated to a side show requiring attention only when transgressions are revealed. Crime control is virtually exclusive; corruption control is a reclusive appendage.

As such, the NYPD is almost completely reactive in its fight against internal corruption allowing little, if any, true outside scrutiny. Yet, at the same time, it expects communities to acquiesce and be open to its patently proactive fight against crime as they forcibly stop, question, arrest, investigate, summons, poke and prod countless people under what may be questionable legal circumstances. Such double standards cannot stand.

What began in1994 as a valuable and innovative crime tracking and managerial accountability system, Compstat has morphed into a centralized top down numbers dominated system which places unrelenting pressure on commanders to produce favorable crime statistics, summonses, arrests, stop and frisks, and other activity. A recent Operations Order by the NYPD confirms these pressures which
reflect long-standing practices that we helped expose.

Therefore transparency and external oversight reforms must examine Compstat’s underbelly –the centrally controlled management system that demands favorable crime statistics and leaves little room for lower levels to practice responsible democratic policing NYPD leaders need to set an example and open the Compstat doors to independent outside scrutiny. Just as they expect citizens to subject themselves to their intense scrutiny, they too need to open up and allow complete outside examination.

Silverman and Eterno are the coauthors of The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation, forthcoming CRC Press, Taylor and Francis.