COMPSTAT AT ONE POLICE PLAZA
We are living in a golden age of New York.
I predict that historians will write of this last decade of the Twentieth Century as a gilded period when the arts and culture of our City flourished as never before. The renaissance of this great metropolis was no accident.
Do we credit the Captains of Industry for this resurgence?
Is the New York Stock Exchange to receive our plaudits for this miracle? Maybe, we should recognize the leadership of our religious leaders who have led us out of the wilderness? Who will the historians praise for the salvation of a City that was written off as "Fear City" just a few years ago?
Before we are buried under a mountain of politically correct nonsense, let me put in a few words for some of the real reasons why New York City is once again the premier city of the World.
Behavioral scientists know the reasons for our good fortune.
The basic needs that motivate human behavior are being satisfied. That sounds like a lot of hot air coming from a retired cop, but those words have much meaning.
The basic needs of every person are
The first and most pressing needs of food, water, air, physical elimination of body wastes, sexual fulfillment, and shelter from the elements are the most basic of human needs. They are the most powerful motivators of behavior. In their absence or when we are deficient in them, they are seen as the force that drives the engine of behavior.
Once those basic needs are met, we then are motivated by the need for security. We must feel "safe" in order to progress to the higher social needs that allow us to create a real
community. Until we feel secure in our persons, we cannot grow as individuals or as a society. All social needs are built upon the foundation of the fulfillment of these basic needs and the need for
security. It is at this critical point that the role of the police must receive the recognition of us all. Real communities cannot survive in a crime-ridden atmosphere. When crime or the perception
of crime causes us to feel threatened, that fear now is a powerful motivator of our behavior.
We stay at home rather than attend the theatre, or we watch TV instead of attending the community meeting. We stay behind locked doors rather than venture out to that PTA meeting. All of society suffers from this sense of fear and alienation. We "don't want to get involved" anymore.
What veterans of the NYPD can forget the details in the Theatre District where we had to chase the hoards of derelicts and undesirables away from Schubert Alley and West 44th Street? We would watch the
tourists and theatre patrons leave the theatres in a hurry and catch a cab to flee from the area. The pimps, whores, and predatory criminals that surrounded the famous theatres cast a pall on the area.
Even the New York Times needed to have a detail of cops to protect their employees and truck in the loading docks. Just around the block on Eighth Avenue, the pornographic books stores and peepshows seemed to
Public urination and even defecation in full view was not an unusual sight on some of the sidestreets. Aggressive and threatening panhandlers confronted the pedestrians who risked walking in the area. The subways were avoided. Waiting on a deserted subway platform was an invitation for trouble. The graffiti on the subway cars was a national disgrace. The stink of urine and feces assaulted the senses in the dank dreariness of the littered platforms.
New York was in decline for decades. As the crime rate soared in the city, many voted with their feet and fled to the safer suburbs.
They called it "White flight" because the majority of those with the means to leave were not the minorities. The newspapers and magazines told us of the benefits of moving to the "Sunbelt" States of Florida and Arizona. They wrote glowingly about the warm climates, low crime rates, and affordable housing.
The most destructive aspect of this drain on New York City was the campaign to lure businesses away from New York with the offer of lower taxes and incentives.
The Sunbelt States saw an opportunity to benefit from the problems of New York. Over a period of decades, the citizens of this City watched as thousands of jobs and businesses were lost. The tax base that financed the city was steadily eroded until we reached the breaking point.
New York hit bottom in 1975 with the fiscal crisis under Mayor Abraham Beame. The former comptroller of the City had campaigned under the banner of "Mr. Civil Service". Many career
civil servants including police officers voted him into office.
The police officers of the NYPD always felt that come hell or high water, they would always have their jobs. Even in the depths of the
Great Depression of the 1930s, no police officer had ever been laid off by the City of New York. This social contract between the City and its police had always resulted in a mutual loyalty. That
contract was about to be broken by the Beame Administration.
For weeks prior to the end of the fiscal year, the City had warned that city workers would have to be dismissed due to the financial crisis. The cops listened and assumed that those dire warnings were meant for other less critical city workers. They were sadly mistaken.
We all remember telling the rookies and men with the least seniority that the City would never lay them off. Even when the teletype machines in the precincts began to list the names and commands of
those being laid off, we couldn't believe our eyes. The teletype machines went on and on listing the names of over seven thousand police officers who were ordered to turn in their revolvers and shields to
their commands. The entire Department was in shock at what was viewed as a betrayal. Many of those cops were recalled a short time later, but thousands were not.
One especially hurtful incident
continues to rankle old timers with long memories.
The Knapp Commission had held national TV coverage of police corruption in the NYPD in 1971 and 1972. Who can forget the image presented to the Nation of a totally corrupt police department? The testimony of a corrupt cop who had been granted immunity tainted the reputation of the entire NYPD. We were all painted with the same brush. That corrupt cop eventually was convicted of Murder. When the young cops who were laid off sought employment in other cities, they were usually well received. This was another example of how of jobs and skilled workers were lost to the Sunbelt. New York City police officers, trained and experienced were being hired by small cities that saw a great opportunity. However, it was reported that the administration of a large city in Texas slammed the door in the face of these cops with the admonition that they didn't want "corrupt New York cops" on their police force.
Something happened to turn this around. What brought about such a great change?
Who should get the lion's share of the praise for this turnaround? Remember the old adage: Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
Some credit must go to Mayor Ed Koch who tried his best
to reverse the tide of decline. He was the Mayor for twelve years, but his administration was saddled with court decisions that burdened the City of New York with social problems that distracted his efforts
His efforts to cope with the hoards of indigents that filled the parks and streets of the City cannot be forgotten. What started as a charitable campaign to provide shelter for the homeless became a running battle
with the courts as advocates for the homeless challenged the Mayor to allocate more and more tax dollars to the homeless problem.
The riots in Tompkins Square Park during the summer of 1988 were the ultimate result. The police became the scapegoats for the violence of these riots by the homeless. The news reports showed the police dispersing hundreds of homeless who had built makeshift shanties inside Tompkins Square Park. When the police were pelted with rocks and bottles, they responded. The one-sided newscasts showed police officers using their nightsticks to disperse the mobs of homeless. The economy of the Nation was not good and many people sympathized with the homeless. The police were criticized and their actions termed "a police riot" in some quarters.
Mayor David Dinkins succeeded Ed Koch.
His one term of office was marred by a number of noteworthy incidents. One was a particularly ugly boycott by members of a minority community against a Korean grocer. This incident lasted for many days and created a climate of dissension between both groups. The polarization of various groups increased with the Crown Heights disturbances in August of 1991. The large and influential Hasidic Community of that neighborhood was outraged by the way the city handled the street disturbances between the Hasidim and the African-American community. These incidents must be considered as well as the frightening images of the outbreaks of disorder in Los Angeles in the spring of 1992. The acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King case had led to the burning of large areas of that city. Under the Dinkins Administration, the initiative known as the "Safe Streets Act" received funding. Thousands of additional cops were hired under this program. That financial support for a program to combat crime began under his term in office and he deserves credit for that.
During the mayoral campaign of 1993, Mayor Dinkins was challenged by Rudolph Giuliani.
Giuliani was the former federal prosecutor who had headed the Southern District in New York. He campaigned with the enthusiastic support of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association and other police organizations. In the opinion of many cops, the new Mayor would owe his election to the support that he received from the many police officers and their families. There is much truth in that statement.
We must recognize the leadership of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. His dynamic force of personality galvanized the legions of talented people in this City to bring about this social and economic renaissance.
His selection of William Bratton as his Police Commissioner set the tone for his administration. In the winter of 1992, I was a Duty Captain in Midtown North Precinct What amazed me was the high morale of the transit police when I responded to jobs in the subways. The 9-MM automatic pistols that they carried were the envy of cops on the NYPD. Chief Bratton had only been the Transit Chief for a short time, but had brought about a visible change in the spirit of those cops. When he returned to New York City as the Police Commissioner, he made a speech. Inspiration is a great element in leadership. With his words, he inspired many of his cops:
"We will fight for every house in this city. We will fight for every street. We will fight for every borough. And we will win."
For such a leader, cops would follow into hell.
The program that was created to implement this attack on crime has become known as "COMPSTAT" or Computer Statistics.
This management tool has been the most talked about innovation in policing since its creation under the guiding hand of former Police Commissioner William Bratton. Even when confronted with statistics that have shown crime plummeting in New York City, some traditional criminologists refuse to credit this common-sense battle plan for the decline in crime.
I was determined to see COMPSTAT in operation.
I was fortunate to have Police Officer Timothy O'Neill, Crime Prevention Specialist, NYPD arrange for me to attend the COMPSTAT meeting that was scheduled for Patrol Borough Manhattan North. The COMPSTAT meetings
are held in the Command and Control Center at One Police Plaza.
The highest-ranking members of the NYPD and the Borough Commander,
his precinct Commanders, the Detective Squad Commanders, along with Narcotics, Housing, and Transit Commanders are in attendance.
The Command and Control Center resembles a War Room with video screens to monitor multiple locations. Computer generated pin maps of each precinct are displayed on video screens as the
crime-fighting strategies are discussed. Police officers from around the world are also invited to attend these conferences. Officers from Scotland and Australia sat next to me as I watched First Deputy
Commissioner Patrick Kelleher, Deputy Commissioner Edward Norris, Chief of Department Joseph Dunne, Chief of Detectives William Allee and Chief of Patrol John W. Scanlon took their seats facing the podium.
Seated at a large conference desk were the Commanders
of Patrol Borough Manhattan North and their staffs. Assistant Chief Nicholas Estavillo, Commanding Officer, and Deputy Chief Raymond Diaz, his Executive Officer, were seated opposite their
precinct commanders. Ray and I had worked in the 120th Precinct together years ago. We exchanged greetings and were delighted
when Captain Raymond Spinella of the Street Crime Unit arrived. He also served with us in the 120th Precinct. Sergeant Mike Fichter joined us too. The conference began with the 23rd Precinct. The
Precinct Commander, Captain Charles Rubin, presented a brief review of incidents of crime in the precinct. Homicides and shootings took precedence. When he finished, the Detective Squad
Commander followed up with details of each shooting or homicide. The Narcotics Captain would explain any connection with drug activity. They fielded questions from the row of high-ranking
bosses. Clarification and specific tactics were discussed. What impressed me about these exchanges
was the use of street talk by these officers. They used the street names of the criminals as well as their real names. This was not a sanitized presentation of criminal activity. It was cop talk that
revealed the street smarts of the cops who stood before these high-ranking officers. No desk jockey could field the questions that were hurled at these officers. I would pity any Commander who tried
to "wing- it" at one of these sessions. At the end of the COMPSTAT meeting, every person in that room had a good working knowledge of the conditions in the precinct under review.
Two other commanding officers presented their statistics and strategies. The same technique was followed. On the wall above the podium are the four principles that underlie the COMPSTAT process:
First, Accurate and timely intelligence.
Technology has finally caught up with police needs. Complaint reports entered into the computers at
the precinct level can be interpreted and utilized almost instantly as the clerical staffs in the commands enter the data. In the past, such reports were typed by stationhouse clerks and sent by department
mail. Crime analysis clerks in each precinct would go over each complaint report. The process was a slow one. The skills of the person assigned to Crime Analysis varied. The age of the computer has
dawned and with accurate computerized data at their fingertips, police commanders are enabled to access accurate and timely intelligence. They can utilize their resources to deal effectively with the
crimes reported. They now have the ability to know what crimes are being committed, how, where, and who the criminals are.
Second, rapid deployment of resources
Once the data is properly reviewed and analyzed, the commander deploys the resources best suited to deal with the crime patterns. In the past, such intelligence was not shared. Coordination of efforts by
patrol, narcotics, and other units requires planning. All units must be apprised of the total picture.
Third, effective tactics.
In the past, efforts to deal with crime had led to mere displacement of crime from the areas effected into neighboring precincts. What should be done to permanently deal with the problems?
Fourth, relentless follow-up and assessment.
This is a vital part of the process. It does little good to implement a problem-solving program without
follow-up to evaluate the tactics and make necessary adjustments.
The system works. Other cities have adopted this strategy with equal success. COMPSTAT is here to stay.
COMPSTAT would be a useless tool without the skills of the men and women of the New York City Police Department. Police officers who carry out the plans that grow out of this strategy may not
know all the behavioral science and computer lingo. But, they know how to be cops. We must give the ultimate credit to them. We must compensate them for their dedication and performance of duty.
They have gone with little financial recognition for their efforts. While the rest of the City has
flourished and profited during this "golden age", the police have not. We have always prided ourselves as having the Finest police. Let their salaries reflect that pride.
©Copyright l999 Edward D. Reuss
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