Sunday, February 14, 2010

New York's Crime Decline Rings True

A recent survey of retired New York City police commanders suggests that the NYPD commonly downgrades crime to improve the city's reputation in fighting crime. Last week the New York Times revealed a survey conducted by John A. Eterno and Eli B. Silverman.

The researchers surveyed 323 former NYPD commanders and administrators and found that throughout the CompStat era the police "felt enormous pressure to downgrade index crimes."

CompStat is a crime tracking or mapping computer system that provides data for weekly meetings where crime fighting strategy is established and where the 76 precinct commanders are held accountable for fluctuating crime rates in their areas. Index crimes are those crimes that are reported by law enforcement agencies across the United States through the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). The UCR focuses on homicide and non-negligent manslaughter, robbery, forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

With allegations of devaluing thefts so they would not appear on the UCR or police officers trying to persuade victims not to file complaints, New York is abuzz with the talk of a brewing scandal. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said, "I have an enormous amount of confidence in the data in terms of it being as accurate as you can possibly make it."

My Take

Bloomberg has every right to be confident. There are two obvious reasons why the survey results make no sense. First, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The NCVS collects data directly from victims. Respondents are asked if they have been victimized within the previous six-months. The NCVS shows crime drops parallel with the NYPD since the early 1990's.

Secondly, homicide is often looked at as the gold standard for interpreting crime rate trends. It is difficult to downgrade a murder or pretend like it never occurred. New York's astonishing decline in homicide speaks for itself. In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in New York City. In 2009 there were 461 murders.

While there may be some fudging of numbers, there is no question that the crime drop in New York has been nothing short of miraculous. Holding precinct commanders accountable may be unpalatable to the Captains Endowment Association, the group that represents retired police administrators,but it certainly has had an impact on New York's neighborhoods.

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