An anonymous survey of nearly 2,000 retired New York City police officers found that the manipulation of crime reports - downgrading crimes to lesser offenses and discouraging victims from filing complaints to make crime statistics look better - has long been part of the department's culture, reported the New York Times.
"I think our survey clearly debunks the Police Department's rotten-apple theory," Eli B. Silverman, one of the criminologists, referring to arguments that very few officers manipulated crime statistics, told the Times. "This really demonstrates a rotten barrel."
Dr. Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and John A. Eterno, a retired New York police captain, provided The New York Times with a nine-page summary of the survey's preliminary results. After reviewing a copy of the summary, the Police Department impugned the findings on Wednesday. Paul J. Browne, the department's chief spokesman, criticized the researchers' methodology and questioned the reliability of the findings.
Their survey is likely to rekindle the debate, which flared up earlier this year after The Village Voice detailed the case of Adrian Schoolcraft, an officer in the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn who secretly gathered evidence, including audio recordings, of crime-report manipulation. Shortly after Mr. Schoolcraft presented the evidence to police investigators, his superiors had him involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, saying he was in the midst of a psychiatric emergency.
According to the Times, the survey respondents ranged from chiefs and inspectors to sergeants and detectives. About 44 percent, or 871, had retired since 2002. More than half of those recent retirees said they had "personal knowledge" of crime-report manipulation, according to the summary, and within that group, more than 80 percent said they knew of three or more instances in which officers or their superiors rewrote a crime report to downgrade the offense or intentionally failed to take a complaint alleging a crime.
Franklin E. Zimring, a criminologist at Berkeley Law School, that compared the department's crime data for homicide, robbery, auto theft and burglary to insurance claims, health statistics and victim surveys and found a near-exact correlation, according to the Times.
Mr. Zimring said his research found that the 80 percent decrease in those four crimes reported by the department from 1990 to 2009 was "real."
He said that there was always "some underreporting, and there is some downgrading in every police force that I know of," but that his research showed that any manipulation was too minuscule to significantly affect the department's crime statistics.
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