I’ve written a couple columns for Reason over the last couple years about allegations that NYPD was underreporting serious crimes in order to juke the CompStat figures. And of course at the same time, NYPD was stopping tens of thousands of people for stop-and-frisks and making petty marijuana arrests. Put the two together, and you get a perverse policy of manufacturing petty crimes and false arrests while downgrading—sometimes not even bothering to investigate—violent crimes with actual victims.
NYPD has denied these allegations. When NYPD Officer Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded NYPD management in his precinct talking about quotas and downgrades, they raided his home and forcibly committed him to a psychiatric hospital.
When the Schoolcraft allegations first surfaced, NYPD
Chief Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered an investigation. NYPD has since tried to sit on the results of that investigation. Last week, the Village Voice reported on its contents. And they’re damning.
. . . 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.
The Voice talked to criminologists and former NYPD officials who say there’s no reason to think the problem is limited to the 81st Precinct.
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.
This ought to be a much, much bigger scandal. Political pressure to produce ever-lower crime stats was providing an incentive to downgrade or refuse to investigate rapes, robberies, and assaults. All the while, NYPD cops were stopping hundreds of thousands of black and brown people for no reason at all, subjecting them to searches, then, in some cases, arresting them with little cause, only to release them hours or days later.
The evidence on whether CompStat and Broken Windows really contributed much to the crime drop is mixed. But we’re seeing increasingly alarming evidence that the two policies have had some pretty awful unintended (but, when you think about it, entirely predictable) consequences.