On Tuesday afternoon, the New York Police Department released an outside review of the department’s controversial crime statistics reporting program known as CompStat, with little advance notice. John Eterno, a retired NYPD captain and criminal justice professor who wrote a book on CompStat abuses, has a feeling why.
“You have to get into this report,” Eterno said Tuesday night. “If you read the whole thing, you see a lot of alarm bells in there. That’s why the report is dated on April, and the report doesn’t come until the week of the Fourth of July. They’re trying to just sneak this thing through.”
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
Eterno has a special interest in the outside review of CompStat. He and Eli Silverman, a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, helped ignite criticism over the way the NYPD compiles its crime data. In 2010, they released the results of a survey in which dozens of retired police officials complained that pressure from department brass prompted widespread statistical manipulation of CompStat data, specifically by downgrading reports of serious crimes to less serious offenses.
The outside audit released this week not only confirmed that such data manipulation takes place but found several weak points in the ways the department tracks and uncovers it.
“A close review of the NYPD’s statistics and analysis demonstrate that the misclassification of reports may have an appreciable effect on certain reported crime rates,” the report said.
Two former federal prosecutors turned private attorneys, David Kelley and Sharon McCarthy, conducted the review. (A third attorney, Robert Morvillo, died while the audit was underway.) Commissioner Kelly commissioned the review in early 2011 amid mounting pressure in the wake of Eterno’s and Silverman’s research as well as media coverage of audiotapes secretly recorded by police officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who suffered retribution for his attempts to expose crime downgrades.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the department would embrace the report’s recommendations and adopt more stringent audit protocols. The report called for a formalized external review program of CompStat auditing measures, more accountability toward officers and supervisors behind “egregious” reporting errors, and a more transparent reporting process regarding statistical error rates.
The report found that the department’s annual crime numbers did not account for error rates among less serious offenses. And since less serious crimes could have been downgraded from serious offenses — such as a violent robbery to a larceny, or grand larceny to lost property — the annual crime statistics released by the department don’t provide an accurate picture, the report stated. For example, the report found more than 2,000 more grand larcenies that could have been added to the 2009 yearly totals based on error rates from lesser crime categories such as lost property and petit larceny.
The report authors also found that the department had promised to re-train officers for “egregious” misclassification errors but had no way of tracking such disciplinary measures. In some cases, the department conferred with prosecutors over serious reporting errors, but so far no criminal charges have been filed against any police officers.
Eterno and Silverman both expressed surprise that the report issued strong criticisms of the CompStat reporting methods, especially since the review committee did not have subpoena power and relied on information provided by the police department.
“It’s quite revealing,” Silverman said. “Can you imagine how more revelatory it could be if there was an outside body they actually did the auditing?”
While the report confirmed the department lacked enough internal controls to prevent officers from downgrading and suppressing crime reports, it went to some length to discredit a central claim from Eterno’s and Silverman’s work — that precinct-level commanders and their subordinates turned to data manipulation because of intense pressure from their supervisors to keep up year-to-year declines in crime. The report authors said that officers and commanders interviewed for the review all said they did not feel pressure to manipulate crime reports from superiors.
Eterno, however, notes the report authors only interviewed officers and commanders from four precincts handpicked by the police department.
“Lets face it, it’s crafted politically to try and assuage any ill-feelings on behalf of the police department,” Eterno said. “But if you read between the lines, there’s a real problem in the police department.”