View Full Version : Policing by Data Spreads Across U.S.

April 28th, 2004, 06:02 AM
April 28, 2004

New York's Gospel of Policing by Data Spreads Across U.S.


In the mid-1990's, a new management program called Compstat shook up the New York Police Department. Detectives stopped working 9-to-5 and started working at the hours when most crimes occur. Crime statistics, once compiled every few months, were updated and mapped weekly. Commanders who displayed a feeble grasp of their precincts' problems were summarily replaced. Crime rates raced downward, outpacing a national decline.

Since then, the gospel of New York-style policing specialized units, statistics-driven deployment, and a startling degree of hands-on leadership has been spreading throughout the country. So have the people who personify those tactics, a diaspora of zealous former New York Police Department officers who have gone on to lead other departments.

Some of the dozen or more in this wave of New York exports are well known, like John F. Timoney in Miami and William J. Bratton in Los Angeles. But further from the public eye, New Yorkers have been remolding departments one by one, from crime-plagued midsize cities like Baltimore down to Newton, Mass., a bedroom community near Boston whose police force numbers about one-half of 1 percent of New York's 37,000 officers. "It's culture shock," said Capt. Jeff Fluck, who has been an officer for 27 years in Raleigh, N.C., where a former New York deputy chief, Jane Perlov, now runs the Police Department. Captain Fluck's job has changed from one that could be left at the office to one in which the phone rings day and night. "It is a paradigm shift like I've never experienced before," he said, adding that the change was long overdue. "It's the difference between responsibility and ownership."

The culture shock goes both ways the New York chiefs have marveled at commanders who did not commit homicide stats to memory and departments that needed to be persuaded that the police could anticipate and prevent crime. "Basically, they put out fires and kept the lid on things while they were here, and then they went home," Chief Perlov said.

And Compstat has been forced to evolve to fit departments with different traditions and cities with different problems. "Miami's a big city, and L.A.'s a big city," said Jose Cordero, a former inspector in New York who is now the chief in Newton, which has ranked, based on F.B.I. statistics, among the nation's safest cities. "The question that begs to be answered is, can the strategies be applied throughout the country, irrespective of size, economic and demographic conditions?"

He added, "It is controversial, only because people associate N.Y.P.D. management strategies with violence and drugs, and people said, `We don't have any of that.' "

Others have gone to places that share many of New York's challenges. "What I saw here, it reminded me so much of how New York was in the 80's, when crack really started to hit the streets," said Chief Anthony J. Romano, a former New Yorker who went to Baltimore on the coattails of Kevin Clark, who rose to the position of deputy chief in New York before leaving to become commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department last year. Baltimore ranks in crime statistics as one of the nation's most dangerous cities.

Recruiting New Yorkers to lead other departments is nothing new. But over the past decade, as the city has become known as a leader in crime prevention, cities have been reaching deep into New York's ranks, trying to lure not only the department's leaders, many of whom have run precinct staffs larger than most police departments, but its particular brand of success.

Raymond W. Kelly, the New York commissioner, said he was not worried about a brain drain. "I think we're generating a steady stream of young, smart energetic commanders," he said.

But he cautioned that New York's success could not be replicated without money, a concern voiced by officers in other cities with New York chiefs, who said they were worried about increased workload and stress. New York, Commissioner Kelly said, had more than four officers for every 1,000 citizens, while most cities have about two.

Not everyone needs such resources. With little violent crime to deal with, Chief Cordero has focused on traffic accidents and car break-ins. But he and the other new chiefs have also started undercover narcotics squads, domestic violence units, internal affairs bureaus and, in one case, a dive team. They startle their detectives by appearing in person at crime scenes. They butt heads with labor unions. And they all swear by Compstat, with its legendary inquisition-style meetings.

Compstat began in New York in 1994, under Commissioner Bratton, and the department has credited it as a major factor in the city's precipitous drop in crime. The system maps crime according to precise location and time, providing daily statistics that allow for strategic planning. At the meetings commanders are grilled by their bosses, in front of their peers, about crime trends in their precincts and what is being done about them. Behind the officers, computer maps are projected on screens, blemished with crime locations.

Even without the New York Police Department's ambassadors, Compstat's principles have been rapidly adopted across the country. "Right now, there are so many variations on a theme," said John Firman, the director of research at the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "It's not the New York model anymore. It may be the New Orleans model that went to Baton Rouge."

But the New Yorkers jealously guard Compstat's purity. "They design Compstat meetings and it's nothing more than a staff meeting," Chief Cordero said dismissively. "The accountability isn't there."

But what New York calls accountability, the rest of America may be inclined to call public humiliation. "It's not like it's supposed to be demeaning," said Daniel Fickus, president of the police union in Baltimore, who said the meetings seemed to stifle new ideas. "It's not like you're in school."

Several chiefs said they had toned down the confrontational aspect, shifting the emphasis to sharing information. Peter J. Abbott, chief of police in Sarasota, Fla., who formerly ran a precinct in Queens, calls his version a "kinder, gentler Compstat." Chief Daniel J. Oates, now in Ann Arbor, Mich., calls his "Compstat Ultralite."

Even so, Chief Oates has clashed with the unions over work rules and reassignments. "My impression is, in New York, when he gave an order, people jumped," said Detective William Stanford, head of the police union in Ann Arbor. "Whereas in Michigan, when he gives an order, it's like, `Is that in our contract?' "

Detective Stanford said that although officers poked fun at Chief Oates's manic management style "He'd show up at crime scenes, homicides, wherever there was anything going on." it was a welcome change. "The last few chiefs that we had hibernated in their office," he said.

In Baltimore, Commissioner Clark is fond of checking on problem street corners on his way home from work, sometimes jumping out of his car to interrogate loiterers or to search mailboxes and trash cans for stashed guns. On a recent day in north Baltimore, a young man suspected of dealing drugs claimed that the $500 in his pocket came from working at McDonald's. "Okay then," Commissioner Clark demanded, while two women on a nearby porch looked on in disbelief at the commissioner in full dress uniform. "What are the three steps to making a McDonald's hamburger?" The youth was stumped.

Though born and reared in the rough-and-tumble Bronx, Commissioner Clark said he was shocked to see Baltimore establishments that legally sold both weapons and liquor. "In New York, you would never have that," he said. "In New York, it would be" and here, he used a municipal euphemism for driving trouble spots out of business "nuisance abated."

Recruiting from the New York Police Department has not always ended well. Commissioner Clark was preceded in Baltimore by Edward T. Norris, who pleaded guilty in March to spending thousands of dollars in department money on liquor, lavish meals and fancy hotels.

But most New York chiefs, including Mr. Norris before his indictment, can claim good results. In the three years Mr. Norris spent in Baltimore, major crimes dropped 27 percent, and in Commissioner Clark's first year there it dropped another 12 percent, although homicide remains stubbornly high.

In Sarasota, under Chief Abbott, major crimes dropped 7 percent from 2002 to 2003. In Lawrence, where Chief Romero has been since 1999, such crimes has dropped 43 percent. In Raleigh, it has dropped 13 percent under Chief Perlov. Nationally, crime dropped 4.9 percent between 1998 and 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Some argue that statistics only tell part of the story. In Newton, parents and counselors have complained about police crackdowns on teenagers whose minor offenses previously had been handled without arrests, and about trusted youth officers who had been reassigned.

Jay Babcock, president of the Newton Police Association, said officers have been asked to stop anyone they see on the street late at night, causing a minor controversy when officers questioned a teenager sitting on his porch. "He's using methods that work in the big city," Officer Babcock said. "In a small city I'm not a professor here but I don't think it's about statistical information."

Chief Cordero said his methods had nothing to do with size. "It's common-sense police management."

The former New Yorkers are true believers, despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that they have suffered through the ordeal of accountability themselves. Very few rose high enough in the New York ranks that they no longer had to answer questions with maps projected behind them. Commissioner Clark, a deputy chief in the Narcotics Bureau before he retired to go to Baltimore, was one.

"It was the best job in the world," he said without irony. "I was finally freed of Compstat."

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