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Monday, October 24, 2011

Why Every Citizen Should Care About Correct Crime Statistics (Part 5)

Citynewswatch blogs have been focused heavily on the activities of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, partly because of response, and partly because of continuing discoveries about practices in the CMPD and the seeming complete lack of concern or oversight by the City Manager, and those who hire the whole lot—the City Council and the Mayor.  Unfortunately, some are running unopposed…

Many citizens and officers are emailing confidentially with areas of concern, specific information, and other general issues.

One of the largest areas of focus is the lack of transparency of the real crime data since Chief Rodney Monroe came to town, his refusal to answer questions about the numbers that don’t add up at all, and denial after denial of public records requests from the City and the CMPD, no matter the conflict of Public Records Law. 

If you think it’s not an issue that might matter to you, the first story might illustrate again why it’s a problem if crime statistics are not correct.  It is actually information excerpted from the third in a series from the Village Voice in NY, NY written when an officer who tried to correct alleged (and documented) corruption in his own police department was hauled off to a mental hospital by more than a dozen police officers who came in to his apartment without permission or cause. 

The story and tapes of how his Deputy Chief personally arrived among the officers to strip search and say he would be treated as mentally ill if he didn’t cooperate after making an internal complaint follows, but first read some of the consequences of “merely” downgrading or misreporting some crimes, which he was trying to correct:

In what you must hope is one of the most disturbing other outcomes from this downgrading of crimes, the Village Voice illustrates in this article (click to link to full article):
When even attempted rapes are being downgraded to misdemeanors, is the public safe?
By Graham Rayman  published: June 08, 2010
… None is more alarming than the story being made public by retired NYPD Detective First Grade Harold Hernandez.
Responding to the ongoing Voice series "NYPD Tapes," Hernandez reveals publicly for the first time that the downgrading of crimes to manipulate statistics allowed a man to commit six sexual assaults in a Washington Heights neighborhood in 2002 before he was finally caught after his seventh attack.
The initial six crimes, committed over a two-month period, went unnoticed by 33rd Precinct detectives, Hernandez says, because patrol supervisors had improperly labeled most of them as misdemeanors. It was only through a lucky break—an alert neighbor spotted the suspect pushing his seventh victim into her apartment—that the rapist, Daryl Thomas, was finally captured.
After his arrest, Hernandez persuaded Thomas to detail his earlier crimes. The detective then combed through stacks of crime complaint reports to identify the pattern of violence.

Hernandez learned that most of the victims' complaints in the prior assaults had been classified as criminal trespassing, so the incidents never reached the detective squad and, in turn, were never declared a pattern, which would have triggered an intense campaign to capture the perpetrator.
No police official was ever disciplined for misclassifying the complaints. Not only did Police Commissioner Ray Kelly allow the precinct commander, then Captain Jason Wilcox, to stay on, but he promoted him twice: Wilcox is now an Inspector and the commanding officer of the Manhattan Transit Bureau.
This is the same Commissioner Ray Kelly that claims to be interested in investigating the problem of misreporting crimes, but has been fighting it for years.
One of Thomas's victims, Jennifer Krupa, was stunned when the Voice told her what happened to the earlier complaints. She was attacked toward the end of the two-month period. "If there was a chance they could have caught him earlier, that is absolutely infuriating," says Krupa, a musician who now lives out of state and willingly allowed her name to be used.
Thomas's attack on her resulted in a brutal battle. Shortly after 2 a.m., he accosted her as she was entering her apartment. He grabbed her and put a knife to her throat. She screamed and struggled, and they both fell. He snatched her purse and ran, but she chased him down and grabbed the purse. He punched her in the face, but she held on to her purse, and he fled. Krupa wound up with a bruised face and a small cut on her throat.
She knew it could have been worse: "He was trying to get me into my apartment," she says. "This turned my life upside down for more than a year. I had panic attacks. I didn't sleep. There were days I couldn't leave my apartment."
Over time, the trauma faded, but she says, "Anytime I'm in a corner or in an elevator, I'm very aware of what's going on around me."
Hernandez found out sometime later that a detective sergeant in the squad had noticed the similarity of the incidents, but when he brought it to the attention of the squad commander and the precinct commander, he was rebuffed.
"He told them, 'You have a predator out there,' and they said, 'Keep your mouth shut,' " Hernandez says. "He told them, 'You keep on believing that, it's going to blow up in your face. And it would get ugly if people found out about it.' They didn't listen."
The detective lays the responsibility for the downgrading at the feet of the precinct commander, then Captain Jason Wilcox, and his crime analysis sergeant. 
"He was able to dance his way out of the situation," Hernandez says. "The upper echelon praised my work. Everybody overlooked the fact that they allowed this predator to remain on the loose."
"Once this thing blew up, the job made sure the press did not find out about this case," Hernandez says. "It was very high-profile within the department because they thought the women were going to run to the press."
No one was ever disciplined for misclassifying the attacks, he says. The case never made the newspapers or the electronic media.
Since the "NYPD Tapes" series began on May 5, the Voice has heard from more than a dozen current and retired police officers of various ranks who offered their own stories and expressed concern about the downgrading of complaints, the quota system, and how the statistical demand for stop-and-frisks was leading to potential civil rights violations.

This newspaper article outlines the events that occurred when NYPD Officer Adrian Schoolcraft tried to speak truth to power, talking to chain of command about troubling orders given to downgrade the number of serious crimes reported.  Officers simultaneously performed other duties to appear busy and in many cases wrote up completely false ‘small’ charges or just hauled people in to the precinct for 24-hour holds with no probable cause of having committed a crime, violating their civil rights.  Recordings made by this officer over a 1 ½ year period include such orders given along with specific quotas and threats of retaliation and firings for officers who wouldn’t take on these false reports or who wouldn’t turn away victims.
Schoolcraft turned to the Village Voice ( who did a multi-part investigative series on his ordeal, causing other officers to come forward with supportive documentation and corroborating information, as well as more citizens that spoke up.  He also spoke on NPR which just re-aired, and was a result of the Village Voice series.
As Schoolcraft spoke on the NPR show “This American Life” originally aired 9.10.2010, he said this about his intentions in reporting the trouble in his precinct: 
“I figured someone would approach these supervisors and say ‘listen, you got caught. Knock it off.  Everything’s in house still. ‘Just knock it off.’  This is getting out of control.  I never saw myself as an adversary.”  

It seems from their actions that the brass in his precinct saw him differently than he saw himself when they realized the information could get out.  
After taking the information through proper channels and being treated like this, he went to the members of the press who were willing to write about the truth.
You can listen to the full recording (edited version is on the radio show) of the home invasion at this site as more than a dozen officers, including the Deputy Chief Michael Marino forced their way in to his apartment on October 31st, 2009 where he had been sleeping with Nyquil.  His father had called to warn him of the brigade outside his home, so he recorded the whole thing with two recorders.  One on his person was discovered as they tackled him to the floor and then strip searched him after he calmly said he did not want to go anywhere, as he had been resting and not feeling well.  The other was hidden in his bookshelf and recorded the other police announced he would be treated like a mental case for not complying with them.  
According to his undisputed reports Officer Schoolcraft was cuffed and taken to a mental hospital where a doctor said he was not experiencing any mental problems, that his transport there was ridiculous, and that he should be released immediately.  He was kept with no further diagnosis for three more days, at which point a doctor said he was reacting normally to being held against his will without cause in a mental hospital.  He was held for three additional days…   all because he reported wrong actions of his police department to his superior officers and then to Internal Affairs. 
Schoolcraft eventually moved 350 miles out in to the country to live with his father, where NYPD officers have come a dozen times, pounding on the door (recorded) to demand further contact with him.  Would you answer the door?
More officers are coming forward, on record and as anonymous sources to press.  After years of fighting every attempt to review records, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he was “forming a committee to look at how the department records crimes amid allegations that higher-level offenses were being downgraded,” according to a report from ABC’s Channel 7 in NY on January 05, 2011.   Kelly told everyone the committee results would be complete in exactly six months.  Nine months later, nothing has been released.

Veteran Police reporter Len Levitt of the Huffington Post included this in his post on August 23, 2010:
Kelly has been successful in blocking outside agencies from investigating these allegations, which first surfaced in 2005 when the patrolmen's and sergeant's unions stated publicly that the practice of downgrading crimes was city-wide.
Kelly refused to turn over documents requested by Mark Pomerantz, chairman of the Mayor's Commission to Combat Police Corruption, which lacks subpoena power. Bloomberg supported Kelly by remaining silent, prompting Pomerantz to resign.
Since then, not one of the city's district attorneys has had the guts to begin an investigation into the union claims.
After Schoolcraft made his initial allegations about the 81st precinct, Larry Schoolcraft wrote to Pomerantz, now in private practice. Pomerantz wrote back: "I would refer you to the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, but in candor I do not think they have the ability to do anything for you."
There are documented allegations of patrol officers refusing to take complaints, making determinations on their own that they did not believe someone’s report of burglary, for example, refusing a complaint if someone could not come in to the precinct at that time for some reason—whether for child care or work or any reason.  There is no directive that allows officers to refuse to take a complaint.
Schoolcraft decided to give the tapes to the Voice out of frustration that his attempts to report questionable activities went largely ignored within the NYPD. Instead of the department acting on his complaints, he says, he was subjected to retaliation by precinct and borough superiors.
This was one of the earliest in an in-depth series of articles done by the Village Voice covering what turned out to be an investigation by Officer Adrian Schoolcraft of the NYPD between June 1, 2008 and October 31, 2009.  He tried to talk to his chain of command about some troubling issues of arrest without cause, downgrading of crimes, non-reporting of crimes, and other problems in his precinct.  The results must be examined and dealt with. 
As “Voice” reporter Graham Raymon says, Officer Schoolcraft began carrying a recorder with him which recorded many aspects of “cop” life, but particularly bosses threatening street cops to manipulate the crime statistics in many ways, not to take certain robbery and other “Type 1” (more serious FBI reporting statistic) reports, calling victims to intimidate them out of pressing charges, and increasing and in some cases making up smaller charges against anyone in their way.
See the entire article TheNYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct By Graham Rayman    published: May 04, 2010, as Schoolcraft explains
The tapes show, the rank-and-file NYPD street cop experiences enormous pressure in a strange catch-22: He or she is expected to maintain high "activity"—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes.
Schoolcraft tells the Voice he carried the audio recorder initially to protect himself from the civilian complaints that can result from street encounters. But then he began to document things happening in the precinct that bothered him. After he ran afoul of precinct politics, he recorded what he viewed as retaliation by his bosses.
"How else would you present the fraud being committed on the public?" he asks.
Al O’Leary, spokesman for the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association is quoted:
While the NYPD can set "productivity targets," the department cannot tie those targets to disciplinary action: "What turns it into an illegal quota is when there is a punishment attached to not achieving, like a transfer or loss of assignment."
Another section turns to downgrading crimes and refusing to take reports:
During a September 12, 2009, roll call, a fellow cop tells Schoolcraft: "A lot of 61s—if it's a robbery, they'll make it a petty larceny. I saw a 61, at T/P/O [time and place of occurrence], a civilian punched in the face, menaced with a gun, and his wallet was removed, and they wrote 'lost property.' "
The practice of downgrading crimes has been the NYPD's scandal-in-waiting for years. The NYPD claims that downgrading happens only rarely, but in the course of reporting this story, the Voice was told anecdotally of burglaries rejected if the victim didn't have receipts for the items stolen; of felony thefts turned into misdemeanor thefts by lowballing the value of the property; of robberies turned into assaults; of assaults turned into harassments.
Schoolcraft volunteered his testimony and evidence, without representation
THE NYPD HAS A UNIT THAT audits precinct crime stats, known as the Quality Assurance Division (QAD). The unit operates something like Internal Affairs, but is actually attached to the management and planning office.
On October 7, Schoolcraft was ordered downtown by QAD for a nearly-three-hour formal, on-the-record interview with an inspector, a lieutenant, and three sergeants.
Schoolcraft was advised that he could have an attorney represent him in the meeting, but he chose not to. It's also important to note that if he had lied during the interview, he could have been brought up on department or criminal charges. Plus, he was laying his career on the line by discussing misconduct he claimed to witness. He also supplied documentation of his claims. And the interview took place prior to his controversial suspension, and months before he spoke to the media. In short, he had little to gain and a lot to lose by speaking with the investigators.
Once again, Schoolcraft had brought along his audio recorder, and recorded the meeting without the knowledge of the others in the room. During the meeting, the QAD officers make some interesting off-handed observations about the extent of crime statistic manipulation in the precincts.
After a long description of how he does investigations, one of the supervisors says, "You know, I've been doing this over eight years. I've seen a lot. The lengths people will go to try not to take a report, or not take a report for a seven major [crime]. So nothing surprises me anymore."
The supervisor notes such instances can be criminal [falsification of business records], but district attorneys typically "don't want to touch" cases of officers manipulating statistics. "They'll give it back to the department to handle it internally," he says.
More tomorrow.

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