Two criminologists offer their take on this week’s Voice cover story about the secret NYPD investigation which confirmed allegations by Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft of downgrading of crime reports in the 81st Precinct.
By John A. Eterno and Eli B. Silverman
Vindication! The newly exposed New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Quality Assurance Division Report indicating nearly all of our allegations are correct has been around since June 2010. Attacks against our research went on well into 2011 and continue until this day. How in good conscience NYPD could continue to attack Adrian Schoolcraft and our research is beyond shame; it is revolting.
Without question Graham Rayman’s explosive exposé of the NYPD’s internal Quality Assurance Division Report on downgrading crime is a rarity. It represents the city’s investigative reporting at its best. Our book The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation unveils the mainstream media’s sustained failure to pursue the NYPD’s proclivity to manipulate crime reports to make them appear favorable.
Mr. Rayman and a previous Voice reporter, Paul Moses, are two critically important exceptions to the media’s meekness in exploring the NYPD’s statistical legerdemain. Moses exposed a skyrocketing rise in lost property complaints – a key indicator that fudging reports was taking place. Other media outlets would profit from this type of superb investigative reporting.
Without the Voice’s exposé, the NYPD’s internal report would likely never have seen the light of day. The Quality Assurance Division’s two year investigation states the truth: The 81 precinct systematically fostered a culture finely attuned to the downgrading of crime. One might expect that based on this newly exposed report and mountains of other evidence, that the NYPD would now take seriously what we as social scientists have been saying for years – this is a problem throughout the NYPD and must be investigated in full. Unfortunately, given reaction to previous revelations, we are not hopeful.
What mountains of evidence are we referencing? Let’s start with the NYPD’s own officers and sergeants informing them for years that these behaviors were occurring throughout the city. Both the PBA and the SBA (the department’s police officer’s and sergeant’s unions) have had press conferences indicating this truth. Response by NYPD- –to denigrate these accounts and those who reported them.
Our scientific study now published in the aforementioned book and in two scientific peer reviewed journals used both quantitative and qualitative data strongly buttressing the hypothesis that this is a citywide problem. Our quantitative study is based on a survey of hundreds of retirees in the ranks of captain and above. Using those who worked before the NYPD’s performance management system (Compstat) was in place as a baseline; we compared responses of manager’s perceptions about pressures from the upper echelon of the NYPD before and after the Compstat system was put in place.
We were stunned by the responses we received. Based on their personal experiences we found enormous pressures to decrease the numbers of index crimes (those reported to the FBI) and to downgrade index crimes into other non reported categories. Additionally, the perception of the demand for integrity in the crime reports was much less in the current era. Approximately 75 percent of our respondents who were aware of crime report manipulation indicated that the manipulation they experienced was unethical. We also collected qualitative data in the form of in-depth interviews with over 30 retired and some active officers of all ranks. They confirmed nearly every aspect of the previous results and then some. Importantly, they indicated that these practices are taking place citywide due to the pressures of Compstat. Current working personnel have confirmed that these practices are alive and well in today’s NYPD.
Beyond this, crime victims have come forward. One was a victim of identity theft. When he went to the police to report the crime the victim was merely given a letter and told to leave the precinct. The letter, on NYPD stationary and reprinted in our book, states the NYPD “requires specific documentation be submitted before a police report for identity theft or fraud related crimes can be taken.”
The letter informs the victim that such documentation includes a letter from the company with their letterhead giving specific information about you, who opened the account, and where merchandise was sent; a company affidavit that is notarized indicating the complainant has no prior knowledge or involvement among other items, copies of your credit report from three separate reporting bureaus; and other assorted documentation.
Surely the police can do better than hand victims of crimes letters ordering them to prove they are victims before taking reports. Such behavior is unconscionable. Unfortunately, our research indicates that the situation is even worse.
Attempted rape victim Debbie Nathan communicated with us soon after our report went public. She too indicated her horrid experiences in trying to report a sex crime to the NYPD. There are others as well. Graham Rayman revealed a detective’s experience with a rape perpetrator. The detective apprehended a rapist who confessed to many other rapes. When the detective examined the complaint file to close out the cases, he found that all the previous rapes were listed as minor crimes, mostly criminal trespass. After being sued, the NYPD tardily released data on criminal trespasses. Low and behold, they are skyrocketing citywide.
There is much more. Hospital data is at complete variance with NYPD reports. Importantly, for example, firearms assaults at emergency rooms are dramatically increasing while the NYPD claims assaults are down tremendously. The City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows drug use in the city increasing (as does hospital data) but NYPD complaint data are all down for use of drugs. All this does not include the data manipulation to which the NYPD has admitted..
Four precinct commanders and others have been disciplined in the past. All of this took place while the Compstat performance management system has been in place. There are also well-documented cases of crime report manipulation in other places that essentially copied the NYPD performance management system.
Other cities in the United States such as New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia have admitted problems. Other countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, and France have admitted problems as well. Certainly, the track record of the NYPD system is problematic.
There are also the audiotapes in the 81 precinct in Brooklyn and the 41 in the Bronx. Now the allegations in the 81 precinct are confirmed by this NYPD report. This report unearthed by Mr. Rayman and not shared with the public is in stark contrast to the public images NYPD presents: constant denials and attacks of those who question them. Why must investigative reporters have to get these reports? The public is entitled to this.
The NYPD has a problem with its culture. The NYPD must be investigated immediately. How much evidence is needed? How many victims will go unheard? Do the words “transparency” and “community partnerships” mean anything? Apparently, the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg are in complete denial. The NYPD needs a complete overhaul. Investigating Muslims with no suspicion, going to other states and counties with little or no permission, nearly 700,000 forcible stops of criminal suspects last year while at the same time claiming crime is at an all time low, summonses and arrest quotas, pressures on commanders for numbers, and much more. The evidence of a problem with NYPD culture is obvious to any person who looks at the mountains of evidence. A neutral outside investigative body with subpoena power and the ability to grant immunity is needed. Let’s stop the charade and get it done.
Eterno is a professor at Molloy College. Silverman is professor emeritus at John Jay College.