Saturday, February 20, 2010

Broken Windows & Comstat, The Beginning

Broken windows—or quality of life—policing, mandates that even the lowest level crime is addressed, like the broken windows in abandoned buildings, as blight leads to criminal penetration.

Broken windows policing led to Comstat, the idea of crime mapping and focusing resources at points of highest crime, which seems so logical, but had never been done.

It was done by a New York City transit cop, who ultimately became second in command to the Commissioner, and their development and deployment of Comstat has revolutionized policing in America.

Here is an interview with that transit cop.

An excerpt.

“Short of stature -- about 5-foot-7 -- and rotund, 46-year-old Jack Maple is given to wearing two-tone shoes, striped shirts, bow-ties and a homburg hat. But don't let his taste in clothing fool you. He cut his stylistic teeth in New York City's hot lunch spots, while cutting his professional teeth underground, in what New York's finest derisively refer to as the caves.

“The caves are the New York subways -- once considered as dangerous a place as any in the world. In the 1980s, Maple was an aggressive transit cop who moved up to the rank of transit lieutenant. When he got tired of responding to crime instead of fighting it, he went home and put his unschooled but analytical mind to work.

"I called them the Charts of the Future. On 55 feet of wall space, I mapped every train station in New York City and every train," Maple recently explained. "Then I used crayons to mark every violent crime, robbery and grand larceny that occurred. I mapped the solved vs. the unsolved."

“Later, when William Bratton was hired by the Transit Police to cut crime, Maple showed him the charts, and between 1990 and 1992 they cut felonies in the caves by 27 percent and robberies by a third.

“In 1994, when Bratton was appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to head the NYPD, the new commissioner made the flamboyant Maple his second-in-command. The move, likened to promoting a Navy ensign to admiral, ruffled many feathers. But using computerized Charts of the Future, precinct commanders were held accountable for crimes in their area. For the first time that anyone could remember, crime in New York City began to decline.

“COMSTAT was born. COMSTAT is a process by which crime statistics are collected, computerized, mapped and disseminated quickly. Officers are held responsible for the crime in their areas, and all crimes, including the "quality of life" infractions like loitering or public intoxication, are pursued aggressively. The program has become the talk of squad rooms nationwide.”