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Jul 04 2012

Retired Cops Admit to NYPD Manipulation of Crime Stats

In the wake of a scandal where an officer recorded his superiors telling cops to ignore reports of serious crimes and focus on making lots of arrests for minor things, a new survey of retired NYPD officers confirms that this sort of thing was routine.

An anonymous survey of nearly 2,000 retired officers found that the manipulation of crime reports — downgrading crimes to lesser offenses and discouraging victims from filing complaints to make crime statistics look better — has long been part of the culture of the New York Police Department.

The results showed that pressure on officers to artificially reduce crime rates, while simultaneously increasing summonses and the number of people stopped and often frisked on the street, has intensified in the last decade, the two criminologists who conducted the research said in interviews this week.

“I think our survey clearly debunks the Police Department’s rotten-apple theory,” said Eli B. Silverman, one of the criminologists, referring to arguments that very few officers manipulated crime statistics. “This really demonstrates a rotten barrel.” …

The survey, conducted earlier this year, was financed by Molloy College. Dr. Eterno and Dr. Silverman e-mailed a questionnaire to 4,069 former officers who had retired since 1941. Roughly 48 percent — 1,962 retired officers of all ranks — responded.

The respondents ranged from chiefs and inspectors to sergeants and detectives. About 44 percent, or 871, had retired since 2002. More than half of those recent retirees said they had “personal knowledge” of crime-report manipulation, according to the summary, and within that group, more than 80 percent said they knew of three or more instances in which officers or their superiors rewrote a crime report to downgrade the offense or intentionally failed to take a complaint alleging a crime.

The questionnaire did not ask for specific examples, but it did invite respondents to comment. The summary included remarks from six former officers, but did not indicate their ranks.

One officer, who retired in 2005, wrote that he heard a deputy commissioner say in a “pre-CompStat meeting” that a commanding officer “should just consolidate burglaries that occurred in an apartment building and count as one.”

“Also not to count leap-year stats.”

Another respondent, who retired in 2008, wrote, “Assault becomes harassment, robbery becomes grand larceny, grand larceny becomes petit larceny, burglary becomes criminal trespass.”

NYPD has heralded an allegedly dramatic reduction in serious crime in that city since the Giuliani administration, but the evidence clearly suggests that this reduction may have more to do with manipulation than with any actual change in crime rates.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    gorgias

    Is anyone else getting flashbacks to The Wire?

  2. 2
    bybelknap

    Ed, I’ve often read here that the numbers show crime to be declining, usually when discussions of decriminalizing recreational drugs, or “stand you ground” laws come up. When one finds out that the data are being fudged to appear to be decreasing, what is one to believe? Are crime rates truly declining, or are they stable, or increasing? Seems impossible to make a rational judgement when those tasked with collecting the data are screwing around with it to make themselves look good.

  3. 3
    Pierce R. Butler

    Who knew that cops hung out with Wall Street financiers?

  4. 4
    ArtK

    While it’s particularly egregious when done by cops, this kind of behavior shows up any time you have some sort of objective measure on which people’s jobs and reputations depend. Look at standardized testing in education: As the emphasis on test scores rose, so did the motivation to cheat. Reclassifying kids, telling them to stay home on test day, even writing or changing tests all happen.

    There’s a lot in society that affects crime rates, but that cops can’t do very much about. The statistics gathered don’t compensate for that, so the cops get hammered for not doing enough, just like the teachers and school administrators in my other example. Again, this is a big motivation to game the system somehow.

    This is the social version of the observer effect in physics.

  5. 5
    Ace of Sevens

    @2. Those are different figures. Murder rates are going down and there’s generally no way to hide a murder by reclassifying it, so it’s fair to say violent crime is really dropping. It’s stats for things left theft and sexual assault, which are easy for the police to ignore or classify as something more minor, that you can’t believe.

  6. 6
    kermit.

    Ace of Sevens: Murder rates are going down and there’s generally no way to hide a murder by reclassifying it, so it’s fair to say violent crime is really dropping.

    One problem – our trauma medicine has improved dramatically. People are living in medical situations which would have killed them 30 years ago. Not that this is bad in itself, but we can’t depend on mere [numbers of murdered people per capita] as an indication that violent crime is dropping. Now it seems that in some jurisdictions, the other crimes are being classified downward.

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