Will COMPSTAT Encourage the SFPD to Make Bad Arrests, the Way It Did for the NYPD?

This week’s This American Life radio show is called “Right to Remain Silent” – it’s about two sort of wacky guys from New Yawk. The first half of the show concerns what happened after an iPhone owner used FaceBook to jokingly threaten people at the 5th Avenue Apple Store but the second story is the more interesting part. It’s about: 

“a police officer who begins recording his supervisors to prove they’re manipulating crime statistics in potentially dangerous ways.”

Adrian Schoolcraft, the NYPD cop featured in the second half of the show, blames “crime control model” COMPSTAT (“short for computer statistics”) for pressuring his supervisors into pressuring him to make arrests and hand out tickets simply for the sake of making arrests and handing out tickets. You know, to get the stats looking good.

Oh, and since he he carried audio recorders around all the time, you get to hear a bunch of NYPD cops talking, and yelling. And here’s a written version of the story, a long one from the Village Voice.

Adrian Schoolcraft, after his split with the NYPD: 

Now, here’s the SFPD’s take on COMPSTAT.

Anyway, you can download an mp3 of the show for free over the next couple of days, if you want.  

COMPSTAT Policing in San Francisco 

A promising trend in significantly reducing violent crimes in the communities of San Francisco is beginning to emerge. Although many may argue that there are many factors that directly effect any downturn in crime, one new factor, which was absent prior to Chief Gascón’s appointment to the Chief of the San Francisco Police Department, was the implementation of his crime control model known as COMPSTAT. COMPSTAT, short for computer statistics, has a well-established and proven track record in reducing crimes and improving the overall operating systems of several major metropolitan police departments. Police Departments such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey have all experienced significant reduction in violent crimes as a result of the implementation of the COMPSTAT crime control model. Although many of these departments have custom tailored the COMPSTAT process to their own department and community needs, the core elements of COMPSTAT have remained the same. The core elements provide a basic road map for getting police officers back in the business of actually proactively fighting crime rather than just reacting to it. A vital component of the COMPSTAT philosophy is its emphasis on holding police managers directly accountable for combating the crime in their assigned area and providing them the authority to deploy their resources to achieve the desired results.The elements of COMPSTAT consist of four distinct principles:

Accurate and Timely Intelligence

Accurate and timely intelligence, or information is absolutely essential in effectively responding to any problem or crisis. Since today’s policing techniques nearly always consist of vast amounts of information, it is necessary to provide a vehicle where essential information can easily and effectively be shared with all levels of the organization. Often times, detectives have information on suspects or crime trends and patterns but the actual field patrol officers who may be in contact with potential suspects have no idea of what information detective personnel possess or need to clear a case. Just as important, this principle also provides for an early warning system to identify emerging crime trends and patterns. In today’s environment of ever shrinking resources, being able to apply the necessary resources to an identified problem area is crucial in successfully reducing crime. Historically, marked police vehicles have randomly been deployed in hopes of deterring potential criminals who see the black and white police vehicles on patrol. This principle suggests that the intelligence/information be used as a radar screen to direct police resources to the exact problem area.
Relentless Follow-up and Assessment

An essential element in any crucial operation is the need to critically assess past tactics and review what was successfully employed and what just didn’t work. One of the main differences between private enterprise and the public sector is the bottom line of positive returns. The public sector and police departments have rarely been evaluated on their results. On the other hand, if a business implements an unsuccessful strategy or provides an unacceptable level of customer service, it isn’t long before bankruptcy is filed. The bottom line with COMPSTAT is results. Everything the police department does no matter whether administrative, operational or investigative in nature, is evaluated by the results achieved. Static operations that do not provide for successful results are immediately assessed for their value and necessity to the overall operation of the department.


Effective Tactics

Traditional policing tactics have always dictated that most problems may be solved at a superficial level. In other words, take care of the suspect and don’t worry about the social or environmental situation that may be adding to or creating the problem. COMPSTAT tactics encourage “thinking outside the box” and mandate that every resource, both internal and external, are considered in responding to a problem. COMPSTAT tactics also provide for a sense of urgency in responding to problems. The old attitude of public entities responding at slow speed are no longer acceptable. Every case or call for service is handled as the traditional “Big Case” and is thoroughly and rapidly investigated in a systematic manner.

Rapid Deployment

For decades, police departments have been driven by calls for service and responded with their limited resources in a reactive manner. With COMPSTAT, the police department is now armed with vital intelligence regarding emerging crime trends or patterns which allows for a strategic police response. The strategic response can be in many forms; both traditional uniformed or plainclothes officer as well as non-traditional decoys and sting operations.

The COMPSTAT Unit, under the direction of Commander Jeff Godown, works to provide the statistical data and management information needed for bi-monthly COMPSTAT information sharing meetings. The review of the data presented and the performance of the command officers responsible for the existing crime issues assists those same officers in future decision making when creating new crime reduction strategies, allocating resources and deploying personnel in their assigned areas. Proven and successful strategies are identified and offered to other commands to assist them in addressing similar or overlapping crime problems in other areas of the City. The continuous COMPSTAT cycle of reviewing, strategizing, taking action and being held accountable for results has streamlined the Department’s crime fighting abilities and increased it’s effectiveness in responding quickly to crime problems.

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One Response to “Will COMPSTAT Encourage the SFPD to Make Bad Arrests, the Way It Did for the NYPD?”

  1. Mattachine says:

    Thanks! I’ve been talking this one up for weeks.

    This is why I have so much trouble with L, the Sit/Lie ordinance: It gives the police the leeway to cross the line, whereas what’s on the books right now, make the lines to be crossed much more clear.