NYPD report confirms manipulation of crime stats

NEW YORK Fri Mar 9, 2012 3:23pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York Police Department whistleblower's report that his precinct was systematically underreporting crime - an act that resulted in a suspension and time in a psychiatric ward - has been validated by an internal department investigation.

The report, completed in 2010 but not made public, comes amid growing scrutiny of the NYPD and its declining crime statistics. Those stats have helped build a narrative that New York City has become, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg likes to say, "the safest big city in America."

In September of 2009, Officer Adrian Schoolcraft of the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn met confidentially with NYPD investigators and provided evidence - including secret audio recordings he had made - that more than a dozen crime reports had been manipulated.

He charged felonies had been downgraded, crime reports taken were never filed, and in still other cases, crime victims were discouraged from filing complaints at all.

Weeks later, on Halloween night, he was taken from his apartment in handcuffs to the psychiatric ward of Jamaica Hospital, where he claimed he was held against his will for six days.

Schoolcraft had left work sick that day, after being harassed by senior officers in his precinct who had learned of his complaints, his attorney said. He filled out a sick form but failed to have it signed by his supervisor. Senior officers arrived at this apartment and encouraged him to return to work, but he refused.

"Act like a man," Schoolcraft was warned, according to attorney Jon Norinsberg. When he refused, he was declared an EDP, or emotionally disturbed person, and police transported him to Jamaica Hospital's psychiatric ward.

Schoolcraft, who remains under suspension, has filed a federal lawsuit against the department, as well as the hospital and several doctors there. A hospital spokeswoman declined to comment on the allegations, citing patient privacy laws.

Reuters has viewed a copy of the internal NYPD report, which determined there was a "concerted effort to deliberately underreport crime in the 81st Precinct."

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not return several calls for comment.

The department has maintained that while a handful of commanders have been disciplined in recent years for manipulating statistics, the problem was not widespread, and when allegations like Schoolcraft's arise, they are investigated thoroughly.

Seven officers in the 81st precinct were disciplined in the wake of the Schoolcraft investigation, according to the internal report, and the precinct commander was transferred to another detail.

"When viewed in their totality," investigators wrote in the internal report, "a disturbing pattern is prevalent and gives credence to the allegation that crimes are being improperly reported in order to avoid index-crime classifications."

Schoolcraft's allegations, along with similar charges in the past year from other officers at other precincts, as well as police union officials and former cops, have ratcheted up the pressure on NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly to address what many current and former cops say is an open secret within the department: crime statistics are being manipulated.

"This is absolutely unconscionable," said retired NYPD Captain John Eterno, co-author of "The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation," a critical look at the NYPD's widely replicated "CompStat" program.

"This is the underbelly of the program: the (crime) numbers are being gamed, plain and simple, and the numbers are being gamed because the (police district) commanders are under tremendous pressure to make the numbers look good. This is happening all over the city," Eterno said.

Eterno and co-author Eli Silverman surveyed 400 retired NYPD captains during the research for their book. More than 100 said they were "aware of manipulation that was unethical," he said.

The police department challenged the authors' methodology when their research first surfaced in February 2010 and said rigid quality controls like semiannual audits of each precinct prevent widespread manipulation of statistics.

CompStat - short for computer statistics - is a police performance management system put in place in 1995 under former NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton that tracks and analyzes crime data in real time, and holds police district and precinct commanders to account for crime-fighting performance in their respective commands.

The weekly CompStat meetings - where commanders have been reduced to tears under withering attacks from their bosses, according to several media reports - soon became the stuff of police legend, and even ended up being dramatized in a scene on HBO's cop drama "The Wire."

City crime rates - including indexes such as murder - plummeted after CompStat was instituted. A December 2001 Manhattan Institute study of the program called it "perhaps the single most important organizational/administrative innovation in policing during the latter half of the 20th century." The program soon spread to major police departments across the country.

The internal report was first reported by the Village Voice on Tuesday. The newspaper's multipart series on the Schoolcraft case in 2010 sparked outrage among lawmakers, community leaders and law enforcement reformers. Kelly, the commissioner, subsequently ordered the investigation into Schoolcraft's allegations but has commented publicly on them.

The NYPD tracks and reports seven major "index" crimes - murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny auto.

Kelly has come under increasing criticism on a number of fronts in the past year. In addition an embarrassing ticket fixing scandal in the Bronx, the department has been come under scrutiny for what critics characterize as aggressive surveillance of Muslim communities outside the city.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta)

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