This article from the New York Times reports that many former police administrators are saying that there was manipulation of the statistics that led to the dramatic decrease in crime rates during the 1990's; though the New York Police Department responds that the survey is not fully credible and other surveys indicate the statistics are accurate.
“More than a hundred retired New York Police Department captains and higher-ranking officers said in a survey that the intense pressure to produce annual crime reductions led some supervisors and precinct commanders to manipulate crime statistics, according to two criminologists studying the department.
“The retired members of the force reported that they were aware over the years of instances of “ethically inappropriate” changes to complaints of crimes in the seven categories measured by the department’s signature CompStat program, according to a summary of the results of the survey and interviews with the researchers who conducted it.
“The totals for those seven so-called major index crimes are provided to the F.B.I., whose reports on crime trends have been used by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to favorably compare New York to other cities and to portray it as a profoundly safer place, an assessment that the summary does not contradict.
“In interviews with the criminologists, other retired senior officers cited examples of what the researchers believe was a periodic practice among some precinct commanders and supervisors: checking eBay, other Web sites, catalogs or other sources to find prices for items that had been reported stolen that were lower than the value provided by the crime victim. They would then use the lower values to reduce reported grand larcenies — felony thefts valued at more than $1,000, which are recorded as index crimes under CompStat — to misdemeanors, which are not, the researchers said.
“Others also said that precinct commanders or aides they dispatched sometimes went to crime scenes to persuade victims not to file complaints or to urge them to change their accounts in ways that could result in the downgrading of offenses to lesser crimes, the researchers said.
“Those people in the CompStat era felt enormous pressure to downgrade index crime, which determines the crime rate, and at the same time they felt less pressure to maintain the integrity of the crime statistics,” said John A. Eterno, one of the researchers and a retired New York City police captain.
“His colleague, Eli B. Silverman, added, “As one person said, the system provides an incentive for pushing the envelope.”
“The Police Department disputed the survey’s findings, questioned its methodology and pointed to other reviews of the CompStat process that it said supported its position.
“The survey, which involved an anonymous questionnaire, was done in coordination with the union representing most of the senior officers in the department. The questionnaires were sent to 1,200 retired captains and more-senior officers; 491 responded, including 323 who retired from the department after 1995, the first full year that the agency, then under William J. Bratton, used CompStat. It is based on the scrupulous tracking of crime complaints and a mix of mapping crime trends, identifying trouble spots and holding precinct commanders directly responsible for attacking those problems.
“The survey has its limitations. It is unclear exactly when the retired senior officers left the department, making it impossible to say whether any alleged manipulations came early on or had developed over years and across more than one mayoral administration. The CompStat approach has been widely replicated across the country and has been credited with improving police work in many cities.”