Sunday, February 21, 2010

Compstat Works

Following up on yesterday’s post, this article from City Journal examines the latest attack on Comstat—or Compstat—and demolishes it in the process.

An excerpt.

“The crime analysis and accountability system known as Compstat, developed by the New York Police Department in 1994, is the most revolutionary public-sector achievement of the last quarter-century. Since its inception, Compstat has driven crime in New York down an astounding 77 percent; veterans of the Compstat-era NYPD who have gone on to run police departments elsewhere have replicated its successes. Other government agencies, both in New York and nationally, have applied the Compstat model to their own operations, using minutely analyzed data to hold managers accountable for everything from improvements in public health to decreases in welfare dependency to road repairs.

“Now, however, a survey of retired NYPD commanders by two criminologists purports to cast doubt on the wisdom of Compstat. Compstat has undermined the reliability of the NYPD’s crime-reporting system, say former John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Eli Silverman and Molloy College professor John Eterno. Weekly meetings in which top brass grill precinct commanders about crime on their watch place too much pressure on the commanders, resulting in data manipulation, the professors charge. “Those people in the Compstat era . . . felt less pressure to maintain the integrity of the crime statistics,” Eterno told the New York Times. “The system provides an incentive for pushing the envelope,” Silverman added. Silverman and Eterno anonymously asked several hundred retired NYPD captains if they were “aware” of instances of commanders changing crime data. About half of the survey respondents (157 of 309) said that they were aware of changes to crime reports. A follow-up question asked whether the changes were ethically appropriate. Of the 160 respondents who answered, 22.5 percent thought that the changes were ethical, while 53.8 percent believed that the changes were highly unethical.

“Critics of the NYPD have seized gleefully on the study, which has not yet been publicly released. The New York Times obligingly wrote it up on its front page and followed up with several articles on the topic.

“NYPD foes can put away their party hats. Nothing in the survey discredits Compstat or its crime-fighting accomplishments. Eterno’s claim about a decreased emphasis on crime-data integrity in the Compstat era is demonstrably false. It is ludicrous to suggest that a department where the top brass did not even get crime data until six months after the crime and then did nothing with them—as was the case in the pre-Compstat era—cared more about the accuracy of crime statistics than one in which every deployment decision is made based on the minute-by-minute reality of crime on the streets. Nor does the study, which has several design flaws, cast any doubt on the city’s record-breaking crime drop. Given the enormous efforts that the NYPD makes to ensure the validity of its statistics, the study ultimately comes down to a dangerous argument against accountability systems per se.”