by William K. Rashbaum, The New York Times
New York City's renowned Compstat crime-fighting program, originally
created to measure and map serious crime in city neighborhoods, has grown
into a sweeping data-collection machine that traces hundreds of factors,
many of which appear distant from the nuts and bolts of police work.
The system, introduced in 1994 to focus largely on the seven major crime
categories, has changed in ways both substantial and subtle, and now records
734 of what officials call indicators: everything from concentrations of
prostitutes to police overtime, allegations of abuse by officers and how
often police commanders meet with community leaders.
The expansion reflects an acknowledgment that fighting crime is not just
about finding criminals and arresting them, but about enlisting the support
of communities and finding a way to do it economically.
In effect, Compstat has become an intricate map of the city and its
ills - the annoying and the deadly - and an abacus upon which officials
calculate how the Police Department is working to alleviate them.
Gone are the days when murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand
larceny and auto theft were the central focus of searing Compstat meetings
in a cavernous room on the eighth floor of 1 Police Plaza.
Under the current commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, Compstat has further
evolved, focusing also on minor offenses that can have a major impact on
quality of city life: panhandling, squeegee men, loud parties and barking
dogs. And the weekly meetings have become more collegial, with an
atmosphere, Mr. Kelly said, in which commanders are often put on the spot
but spared the abuse that many glumly suffered in years past.
"It's been broadened, and again, it is more collaborative, in the sense
that we're trying to share information as to what was done by other commands
to address problems," said Mr. Kelly, who took over the force in January
his second tour as commissioner.
Compstat has long been admired nationally and internationally; the system
has been used by cities like Baltimore, and Caracas, Venezuela, plans to
it. The concept has also been copied in its hometown, where it has been
brought into other agencies like the Sanitation and Correction Departments,
and where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is considering using it to measure
effectiveness of other city agencies.
The innovation was created and developed under William J. Bratton, the
police commissioner from 1994 to 1996, the first two years of Mayor Rudolph
W. Giuliani's administration; one of the primary architects of the program
was Jack Maple, Mr. Bratton's deputy commissioner for crime control
strategies. Mr. Maple died of cancer last summer.
Mr. Bratton used Compstat to direct swift deployments of officers to
areas with high concentrations of crime and to hold commanders accountable
for crime problems in their precincts.
His approach turned into a police philosophy that changed the way
departments across America and in other parts of the world serve their
communities, drawing a nonstop procession of police commanders and
government officials from as far away as China and Chile.
Soon after it was introduced, it became part of the culture at 1 Police
Plaza: twice-weekly meetings in which local commanders were pushed, prodded
and sometimes humiliated by senior officials who pinpointed crime problems
on their streets and broadcast their failings.
Mr. Bratton defended the aggressive nature of the sessions in the early
days, arguing that precinct commanders were making $80,000 a year. "If they
can't deal with the pressure of that room, you can be damn sure they can't
deal with pressure out there on the street," he said.
Mr. Kelly, however, said he felt that commanders, who are each running
what he called the equivalent of a $30 million to $40 million business,
"shouldn't be abused, they should be treated with dignity and respect, while
held accountable for what happens on their watch."
Eli B. Silverman, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice
and the author of "NYPD Battles Crime: Innovative Strategies in Policing,"
said a certain amount of pressure was required in the program's early days.
"My own view was that in the beginning it needed to be very forceful because
you were starting something very different," he said.
Mr. Kelly, who has made upgrading department technology a priority, says
he hopes to use teleconferencing to broadcast the now weekly meetings to
officials in boroughs beyond the one under scrutiny each week.
And, it seems, there is much to learn. Mr. Kelly said the meetings now
focused on the number of precinct arrests that were made by officers on
overtime patrols, part of an effort to reduce costs and ensure that
enforcement is driven by crime rather than an officer's desire for more
Compstat now also measures emergency response time, conditions in police
station houses and how many police cars are available for patrol and how
quickly those in need of repairs are turned around in the department's
The system also records the number of corruption allegations and civilian
complaints of police abuse in each precinct, which along with community
relations are important indicators of how a department serves the people,
according to Mark H. Moore, a professor of criminal justice policy and
management at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Professor Moore, who has been studying methods to measure police performance
for five years, contends that crime reductions alone provide an incomplete
picture of a police department.
He maintains that a police force's performance - or "profits" - can be
accurately gauged only by factoring in the "costs" of police operations:
only the financial costs, but the toll that police operations take on
community relations, or how the department's use of authority impinges on
"The degree that people feel alienated by the police is the degree to
which they are reluctant to cooperate with them, something that makes the
work of the police more difficult," he said.