NYPD, Stop-and-Frisk, and a Rock Star Police Chief

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

I’ve written a couple columns recently about NYPD’s broken windows crime policy, which along with the statistics-driven CompStat reporting system has created some twisted incentives. The two policies seem to be driving NYPD’s patrol officers to harass New Yorkers for non-crimes through an aggressive stop-and-frisk policy, while at the same time encouraging the under-reporting of actual crimes.

The Village Voice has been publishing and reporting on a series of audio recordings taken by a NYPD officer that seem to confirm both policies. Earlier this month, the Voice published an alarming interview with NYPD Detective Harold Hernandez, who says pressure the pressure to reclassify sexual assaults as misdemeanors left a rapist free to commit more assaults.

Responding to the ongoing Voice series “NYPD Tapes,” Hernandez reveals publicly for the first time that the downgrading of crimes to manipulate statistics allowed a man to commit six sexual assaults in a Washington Heights neighborhood in 2002 before he was finally caught after his seventh attack.

The initial six crimes, committed over a two-month period, went unnoticed by 33rd Precinct detectives, Hernandez says, because patrol supervisors had improperly labeled most of them as misdemeanors. It was only through a lucky break—an alert neighbor spotted the suspect pushing his seventh victim into her apartment—that the rapist, Daryl Thomas, was finally captured.

After his arrest, Hernandez persuaded Thomas to detail his earlier crimes. The detective then combed through stacks of crime complaint reports to identify the pattern of violence.

Hernandez learned that most of the victims’ complaints in the prior assaults had been classified as criminal trespassing, so the incidents never reached the detective squad and, in turn, were never declared a pattern, which would have triggered an intense campaign to capture the perpetrator.

In today’s Voice, civil libertarian Nat Hentoff slags NYPD Chief Ray Kelly, pointing to new lawsuits estimating that more than 90 percent of the people harassed in stop-and-frisk operations are never fined or arrested. (Many of those arrested are also never charged.) Hentoff notes that Kelly is fawned over in the press as a “rock star” chief who “radiates power” (and likely running for mayor). Hentoff points to a New Yorker profile of Kelly which asks, “The long-serving NYPD Commissioner is autocratic, dismissive of civil liberties concerns—and effective. Is that a reasonable trade?”

Given mounting evidence that at least part of New York’s perpetually declining crime stats may be due to underreporting, it’s probably time to start asking questions about the “effective” part, too.

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12 Responses to “NYPD, Stop-and-Frisk, and a Rock Star Police Chief”

  1. #1 |  Aresen | 

    Hentoff points to a New Yorker profile of Kelly which asks, “The long-serving NYPD Commissioner is autocratic, dismissive of civil liberties concerns—and effective. Is that a reasonable trade?”

    It is appalling that anyone could even ask that question rhetorically.

    There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding among many people that a civilized lifestyle is somehow sustainable when civil liberties are sacrificed.

  2. #2 |  TDR | 

    What we should REALLY be talking about is the Journolist scandal.

    (I kid…Just trying to beat Hugh Aldridge to the punch.)

  3. #3 |  SJE | 

    You and your facts!

  4. #4 |  Brian Moore | 

    “Given mounting evidence that at least part of New York’s perpetually declining crime stats may be due to underreporting, it’s probably time to start asking questions about the “effective” part, too.”

    I’m not trying to argue, but what about the rest of the country’s declining crime rates? Do we think that they are manufactured as well, or that NY’s has indeed dropped, just that the underreporting was masked by the general decline?

  5. #5 |  DarkEFang | 

    @4 Brian Moore:

    A lot of forces are using CompStat or other statistical systems, so widespread number fudging isn’t entirely out of the question.

    Another thing to consider is the “prison industrial complex” and how it operates in many places. For example, in Indianapolis, the county jail is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA. The state prison is operated by the state of Indiana. CCA gets paid by the state per inmate, kicking back money to the sheriff’s department for each of those inmates. The sheriff’s department receives no compensation for any inmates sent to the state prison.

    The net result is the same as in New York City: There’s pressure to classify crimes as misdemeanors and send them to county jail instead of state prison, where felons serve their time. There is also pressure to keep the county jails full, so at any time, probation violations make up the bulk of the prison population. There’s no point in finding actual criminals when deputies can just drop in on people who are already on probation and look for empty beer bottles in the trash, or pull them over and look for a broken tail-light.

  6. #6 |  SJE | 

    #4: yes, like our budget deficit which hasn’t been all that bad (as long as you don’t ignore huge unfunded liabilities)

  7. #7 |  Ahcuah | 

    Hentoff points to a New Yorker profile of Kelly which asks, “The long-serving NYPD Commissioner is autocratic, dismissive of civil liberties concerns—and effective. Is that a reasonable trade?”

    And does he make the trains run on time?

  8. #8 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    I saw a COPS TV show clone (there a dozens nowadays) where the guy was walking down the street and the female cop, hell-bent on enforcing “preventive crime,” started effing with him, called more officers, frisked him, etc,
    the guy protested and then the cop got indignant. “Why are you getting all upset over a simple welfare check?!”

    A trained officer actually said that, “Welfare check.”

    The got him on a Capias (bench warrant) over a traffic no-show. What a perfect ruse to get around pesky Constitutional issues, the Welfare Check.

  9. #9 |  Henry Bowman | 

    Freakonomics has a chapter concerning New York’s decreasing crime rate, which Giuliani always loved to point to. The authors pretty much destroy the broken window theory. They offer a more controversial theory in its stead: that the decline in crime is due in large part to legalized abortion. Their evidence is very plausible, but not exactly compelling.

    I do not know why anyone would ever trust a big-city police chief.

  10. #10 |  André | 

    For all the talk about cracking down on minor crimes, I still have to step over a half a dozen panhandlers on the block on 42nd between Grand Central and Madison Ave. Obviously they are not working hard enough.

  11. #11 |  croaker | 

    @8

    Welfare check? Fishing expedition belike.

  12. #12 |  Toastrider | 

    AUGH!

    ‘Broken windows’ policy involves ACTIVELY TARGETING MINOR CRIMES, so that the area doesn’t become a magnet for MAJOR CRIMES!

    *Bangs head on desk at NYPD morons*

    It DOESN’T MEAN YOU FRISK EVERYONE IN SIGHT, YOU GOD DAMNED IMBECILES!

    That bit about the sexual assaults being classified as misdemeanors reminds me of a similar problem over in Jolly Olde England. Seems they were underreporting violent crime over there to justify their hilariously broken gun ban laws.

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