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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Comp Stat, Investigations, Crime Reporting (Part 6)

This is a continuation of the previous post by citynewswatch, but part 6 of a series about reporting of Crime Statistics by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department and politicians here in the City of Charlotte who will not relent and take on their oversight responsibilities to investigate numbers that don’t add up.
Please read the last post, which was largely about how one brave NYPD officer, Adrian Schoolcraft tried to speak to his precinct commanders, then Internal Affairs, about disturbing orders to refuse to take criminal complaints, to downgrade severity of crimes in order to make crime appear lower, and also to arrest or at least detain people for no crime at all, just to harass them.  NYPD is the originator of the Comp Stat system which is used here in Charlotte—a computerized crime tracking and reporting system.
After he spoke freely to the NYPD, without representation, and gave evidence of the wrongdoing going on, he says he experienced retaliation on the job.  He has a recorded and undisputed account of his precincts’ Deputy Chief and more than a dozen others forcibly coming into his apartment as he was resting, informing him that he was going to be declared mentally ill, strip searching him, then taking him away without cause for six days without access to the outside world.  Even though he has moved 350 miles away, NYPD officers still come pounding on his door.

But more officers are coming forward in support now.  After Schoolcraft turned to the Village Voice, who reported extensively on his ordeal and on the impact of misreporting the crime statistics, other officers started to come forward and the pressure on command was enough to force investigations.  Those who contact the press can remain anonymous, and they won’t have the fear of retribution from the commanders causing corrupt practices in the first place.
The post also contains one very specific other tragic outcome from the misreporting of crime:  a series of attacks by a rapist that went undetected until at least the seventh attack because the pattern was not established in the reports.

Continuing from these thoughts, and re-focusing on Charlotte which also uses the Comp Stat program, it’t confounding to see a series of reports from local media outlets, based on what the CMPD and the Attorney General release to them, which are seemingly at odds on the same day in the Charlotte Observer:  Jun. 29, 2011
The overall crime rate dropped 5.6 in 2010, while violent crime was down 10.2 percent compared to the previous year, state Attorney General Roy Cooper said today.
Cooper announced the annual tally at a press conference at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Statewide, murders fell 7.3 percent, while rapes dropped 14.3 percent and robberies were down 19.4 percent. There were 468 murders in the state last year, 5.1 per 100,000 residents.
All categories of property crime also fell, led by motor vehicle thefts, which were down 12.5 percent.

Note that all crime statistics in the state have fallen.  This is not exclusive to Charlotte.  These statistics are being reported by other local agencies up to the State, who in turn is reporting them as given.  Whether their reporting standards and numbers are equally murky as Charlotte’s is unknown.
Earlier in the year, January 7th, 2011, Cleve Wootsen, Jr. wrote for the Charlotte Observer as well “Police: Crime Stats Accurate.” 
Local police are thoroughly trained in how to accurately classify and record crime, says Deputy Chief Kerr Putney. Supervisors review officers' initial crime reports to help ensure accuracy, and the department conducts periodic audits.
"You've got to trust your people...," says Putney. "We don't have a lot of instances where people are misclassifying or falsifying or underreporting crime."   The FBI recently reviewed a small sample of CMPD crime reports and made only minor suggestions to improve uniformity of reporting.

No error numbers out of that small sample set were given in the report.
On exactly the same day is another Charlotte Observer report by Franco Ordonez and Cleve Wootsen, Jr. that Charlotte has become a major hub for black tar heroin use.  Major Glenn Neimeyer and other publications declared Charlotte to be in the top five cities in the U.S. for black tar heroin use.
   So, while congratulations are in order on this big “bust” the content of the article clearly states that the problem of black tar heroin in Charlotte is large and growing.  So how does that square up with the shrinking Crime Statistics and happy faces put out by the CMPD, Curt Walton, Mayor Foxx, and the City Council?  It doesn’t.  If you ask the hospitals and treatment centers, as these authors did, they tell you about the real problem.  The addicts are getting their drugs from the dealers described, who are running drug cartels, and they’re not using fake guns and non-criminals to buy, transport, and sell them in our neighborhoods.  Each of those events are crimes, usually gang-driven.
"It's as serious as the beginning of the crack cocaine epidemic," said UNC Charlotte criminal justice professor Paul Friday. "And the reason it is serious is because it can expand so quickly."
Friday spoke to the Charlotte City Council on Monday, warning about increasing use of the highly addictive drug that seems particularly prevalent in affluent areas and among young people. He was joined by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, who told council members that suppliers are Mexican-based cartels that operate as efficiently as a business.
"We take a cell off the street and oftentimes, they'll make another cell in the next five days because they're at the bottoms of the distribution chain," Maj. Glen Neimeyer said at a Tuesday press conference.
Ten years ago, doctors at CMC-Mercy rarely saw a patient addicted to black tar heroin in its detoxification program. Now 40 percent of their patients are being treated for abuse of black tar heroin and related prescription drug abuse, said Robert Martin, the hospital's director of the substance abuse services.
The article details one arrest of a man named Gonzalez, typical of black tar heroin dealers, but not necessarily reflected in our crime stats (the article notes CMPD did not release statistics at a press conference on the topic):
According to the U.S. Attorney in Charlotte, Gonzalez was arrested in possession of more than $50,000 in cash, hundreds of balloons used to package heroin, and two firearms.

The story for Charlotte wasn’t good as FBI released gang data this week for the whole country, attributing about 50% of crime to gang related activity.  There will be more on this topic coming up.

When New York journalists for the Village Voice investigated information from hospitals, as compared to the pleasant picture painted by the crime statistics released by NYPD, what they found didn’t add up, either.  In October, 2005, Paul Moses wrote These Stats Are a Crime: While Bloomberg boasts of crime drop, the hospitals' work on assault victims is booming”
The article outlines a huge political campaign by Mayor Michael Bloomberg announcing "the neighborhoods of New York have become safer than ever."  Meanwhile, from the time of the article, authors found:
The number of people who went to New York City hospitals because they were assaulted jumped sharply in four of the last five years for which figures are available—a direct contrast to the plunging number of assaults the NYPD reported.
But the stark contrast between these two sets of official statistics demonstrates again the need for a thorough, independent probe of the police department's crime reports.  And it shows how wrong it was for the Bloomberg administration to have allowed the NYPD to thwart a probe earlier this year (2005) of the crime statistics.
According to health statistics on the city government's website, more and more assault victims flocked to emergency rooms for four years in a row. In 2002, the last year for which data is available and Bloomberg's first year in office, the number of assault victims either hospitalized or treated in emergency rooms shot up 6 percent from the year before.
The police department reported a 10 percent drop in aggravated assaults, according to FBI records.

Even the ‘Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch had said that officers "are forced to falsify stats in order to maintain the appearance of a drastic reduction in crime," the Daily News reported.   And Sergeants Benevolent Association president Ed Mullins said his sergeants had witnessed assaults being downgraded to harassment cases.   In the face of even the Policemen’s associations’ public statements that the numbers and reports were falsified, they had set up a Commission to Combat Police Corruption comprised of mayoral appointees.
But the NYPD would not cooperate and Mayor Bloomberg didn’t do his duty to assist the chairman or enforce subpoena power, causing Chairman Pomerantz to resign with no support from those who appointed the committee, which now seemed to be a total sham.  All of this happened before Officer Schoolcraft’s ordeal or the sexual attacks of the women explored in the last post.
The article goes on to say:
It must be said that the police department has made sure its own relevant numbers remain secret. The department has stonewalled Freedom of Information Law requests for its data and, as Pomerantz testified in April, refused to hand over information even to a mayoral commission responsible for policing the police.
When the commission sought records, police officials responded that alleged falsifying of crime statistics is outside the corruption commission's jurisdiction because it is not a form of corruption.
But the police department's critics in the unions had alleged a blatant fraud—one involving government records used to make vital decisions about public safety.
That's a corruption allegation.

In the early years of the police department's Comp Stat program—in which the police brass comes down hard on any precinct commander whose crime numbers fail to fall—both hospitalizations for assaults and the police tally for assaults fell sharply.
But then that started to change. Police continued to record a downward trend in serious assaults, but in recent years, hospitalizations for assaults leveled off and emergency room visits increased sharply. Also, the number of "simple assaults"—lesser offenses not included in the FBI's index of serious crimes—dropped sharply at first, but, with some ups and downs, leveled off.
1995 was a banner year for reducing assaults: Police tallied a 14 percent drop in aggravated assaults and the health department would later report that the number of people hospitalized for assault fell 15 percent.
That didn't continue. The patterns are consistent with what the police unions have charged: The impressive crime reductions through the middle 1990s were real, but afterward, a "fudge factor" began to emerge because police commanders felt pressured to manipulate crime reports for the seven "index" crimes reported to the FBI.
As the Voice reported in March, a PBA official explained it this way in the organization's magazine:
"You eventually hit a wall where you can't push [crime] down any more. . .  So how do you fake a crime decrease? It's pretty simple.
Don't file reports, misclassify crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, undervalue the property lost to crime so it's not a felony, and report a series of crimes as a single event. A particularly insidious way to fudge the numbers is to make it difficult or impossible for people to report crimes—in other words, make the victims feel like criminals so they walk away just to spare themselves further pain and suffering"
It doesn't mean that the drops in every category of crime are questionable. It doesn't mean that the city is radically more dangerous than thought. But it could mean that the more recent crime drops are not as great as the public has been led to believe. Reports for some offenses, such as grand larceny or assault, are more easily manipulated than others. Assaults can be taken off the books by downgrading them from felonies to misdemeanors, or recording them under another charge, such as harassment.
Once again: If the NYPD wants to show the continuing drop in major crimes is real, it can start by releasing the mass of crime complaint data on its computers for all charges, precinct by precinct, annually since at least 1993—and not just the "index" crimes. That would show whether there is a pattern of downgrading complaints to lower the numbers for the seven major index crimes. It can release the audits police officials say are done twice a year in all precincts, instead of withholding them, as the department does now. It can disclose whatever data it has for the categories that might allow a reported crime to be turned into something else—lost property, say. And it can grant access to the records that officers submit in their precincts when a crime is reported.

Aside from the terrible case of Officer Schoolcraft, abuse of citizens and the public trust, there are allegations that the Comp Stat system itself can be used as a tool to target individual officers, often mid-level managers and supervisors.  Academics who have devoted years of study and work in the area particularly to Comp Stat and Criminal Justice have surveyed, interviewed, and quoted hundreds of NYPD commanders about the drawbacks of the actual model.  Some quotations are from retired commanders and some from active duty.
Professor John Eterno , researcher, Chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at Molloy College and a retired NYPD Captain.  Eli Silverman is Professor Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Eterno and Silverman continue with their critique of the Comp Stat model with quotes from actual NYPD commanders about the drawbacks of the model.
Expanding on data from a survey of high-ranking supervisors in an article in the journal Professional Issues in Criminal Justice, Eterno and Silverman now include quotations from those anonymous bosses about the drawbacks of Comp Stat.
Keep in mind that these are NYPD captains, deputy inspectors, inspectors and chiefs-- men and woman trusted to run precincts and borough commands, detective squads and narcotics units. Some of them are retired. Some are still on active duty.
Other supervisors described Comp Stat meeting as "abusive."
Another retired supervisors alleges that Comp Stat was a good tool that was used for personal vendettas by some commanders.

"Comp Stat," another writes, "was a tool of 1PP to elevate/end careers at will."
And there's bias as well, he adds. "Often the managers during the Comp Stat process are treated very differently depending on who has been 'chosen' to advance at a rapid rate."

Read the full article from 10/10/2010 by Graham Rayman of the Village Voice titled The NYPD Tapes:  NYPD Commanders Critique Comp Stat and the Reviews Aren’t Good

See what’s happening and compare to what Chicago’s new Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has recently instituted at  It's a very good start toward openness in government, in matters from crime to building permits to government services and contacts, jobs and employees.  Transportation is covered… all the data is there.  Some of it is still raw and less user-friendly, but at least it’s available to search and study, download and process by academics and investigative agencies.  That’s transparency in a city that’s been screaming out for it. 
Here, there is nothing but silence from any City Council Member, from Mayor Foxx, from City Manager Walton, From Chief Monroe, or anyone else “in charge.” 
Please write to those people listed above and demand the information we are entitled to, not just once, but systemically.  We have paid for the systems and the personnel to make it happen.  Instead, the lawyers we pay for are blocking the release of the data to cover whatever is going on in a number of areas.  That's not acceptable for our public data.
Please ask for accountability for the personnel and financial decisions made by Monroe as well.  Please let citynewswatch know how it’s going.  All main contacts are listed here on the site, to your right.
And continue contacting citynewswatch directly--anonymity is key.

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