Every bureaucracy learns how to make the statistics work for it. The bureaucracy announces improvements based on these manipulated statistics.
The New Your Police Department has been caught in a classic example of how the game is played. The department was being pressured to show that crime is declining. It also had to show that this decline was based on police action.
Solution: (1) arrest people who were doing nothing serious; (2) discourage victims who wanted to file reports. In short: (1) greater output, (2) reduced input. “Arresting bystanders made it look like the department was efficient, while artificially reducing the amount of serious crime made the commander look good.”
A police officer recorded this secretly. Result: he was arrested.
In October 2009, Schoolcraft met with NYPD investigators for three hours and detailed more than a dozen cases of crime reports being manipulated in the district. Three weeks after that meeting—which was supposed to have been kept secret from Schoolcraft’s superiors—his precinct commander and a deputy chief ordered Schoolcraft to be dragged from his apartment and forced into the Jamaica Hospital psychiatric ward for six days.
The police ordered a report on these accusations. It turned out that the accusations were true. So, the police did what any bureaucracy would do. It covered up the findings. It did so for two years.
It got caught.
The Voice has obtained that 95-page report, and it shows that the NYPD confirmed Schoolcraft’s allegations. In other words, at the same time that police officials were attacking Schoolcraft’s credibility, refusing to pay him, and serving him with administrative charges, the NYPD was sitting on a document that thoroughly vindicated his claims.
Investigators went beyond Schoolcraft’s specific claims and found many other instances in the 81st Precinct where crime reports were missing, had been misclassified, altered, rejected, or not even entered into the computer system that tracks crime reports.
These weren’t minor incidents. The victims included a Chinese-food delivery man robbed and beaten bloody, a man robbed at gunpoint, a cab driver robbed at gunpoint, a woman assaulted and beaten black and blue, a woman beaten by her spouse, and a woman burgled by men who forced their way into her apartment.
“When viewed in their totality, a disturbing pattern is prevalent and gives credence to the allegation that crimes are being improperly reported in order to avoid index-crime classifications,” investigators concluded. “This trend is indicative of a concerted effort to deliberately underreport crime in the 81st Precinct.”
Once this cover-up became public, the police did what any bureaucracy would do. It stonewalled. “NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not respond to repeated requests for comment.”
Another tactic: redefine crime downward from felonies to misdemeanors. This kept the crimes from going into the data base.
“Moreover, a significant number of serious index crimes were not entered into the computer tracking system known as OmniForm. “This was more than administrative error,” the probe concluded.”
John Eterno, a criminologist at Molloy College and a former NYPD captain, says that what was happening in the 81st Precinct is no isolated case. “The pressures on commanders are enormous, to make sure the crime numbers look good,” Eterno says. “This is a culture. This is happening in every precinct, every transit district, and every police housing service area. This culture has got to change.”
None of this is new. These have been basic practices of government bureaucracies throughout history. The bureaucracies want autonomy but also increased funding. They do not want the politicians who control the budget to look into what the bureaucracy is doing. They just want increased budgets.
The free market’s system of competition restricts this. There is no autonomy. The customers have control, for they have money: the most marketable commodity. They decide which seller wins and which loses. The customers don’t have to look into statistics published by the sellers. All they care about is the price and quality of output.
With government, there is a monopoly of service. So, voters pressure politicians, and politicians pressure bureaucracies to provide evidence of good service. Result: faked statistics.
Then they get caught. Result: “this report is not representative!”
The seven index crimes—murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft—are the central public indicators of the city’s crime rate and, by extension, its reputation. The crime numbers are also the bedrock in evaluating the Bloomberg administration and critical to attracting tourism and economic development to the city.
As a result, Mayor Bloomberg and Kelly have gone to great lengths to insist the crime statistics are accurate. They have publicly downplayed the Schoolcraft allegations and insisted that any “underreporting” is a tiny anomaly.
Kelly’s aides have also sought to marginalize Schoolcraft—to, in effect, kill the messenger. And the department has succeeded in making his life extremely uncomfortable. Schoolcraft has been suspended without pay for 27 months, he faces department charges, he was placed under surveillance for a time, and the city even blocked his application for unemployment benefits.
The trouble is, the report on his findings has confirmed that the pracrtices were widespread.
In all, 11 of the 13 cases brought to investigators by Schoolcraft were substantiated. Complaints were downgraded in an attempt to avoid index-crime classification, investigators concluded. Reports were never filed. Reports were delayed and rewritten. Victims were ignored and pressured.
What is the predictable response? Denial.
As to Schoolcraft’s claims that Mauriello and one of his lieutenants repeatedly ordered cops to downgrade index crimes, investigators examined hundreds of complaints and found several dozen misclassified reports.
Even so, Mauriello and precinct supervisors still denied there was any extensive manipulation of crime reports.
A sergeant and officers told investigators that Mauriello reviewed the previous days’ crime reports, but Mauriello denied that. He also denied calling victims back himself, even though the Schoolcraft tapes and a statement by one of Mauriello’s lieutenants clearly show that he did.
Will anything change? Of course not. Maybe a few heads will roll, but not yet. As long as there are no negative sanctions, nothing will change. There is only two sanctions that matter to any bureaucracy: (1) budget cuts; (2) an outside review board with the power to fire senior employees. These are never implemented.
But it’s a great story. It makes for fun reading. See for yourself. Click the link.