Saturday, March 10, 2012

Time for a change in policing?

This week The Wire came to life. I much prefer blogging successes vs wrongdoing. Every now and then though something comes along. It happened Wednesday, an ugly echo of the Serpico affair 40 years ago.

If you're not into policing, Serpico was the NYPD detective who retired after blowing the whistle on corruption in the 1960s and 1970s. His revelations led to a government inquiry, the Knapp Commission, and the Oscar nominated film Serpico starring Al Pacino.

This Wednesday Village Voice published NYPD Crime Stats Manipulation Widespread. Written by two criminologists, it summarized their scientific research, internal reviews and news accounts of a whistle blower. It confirms that NYPD is cooking their crime books, engaging in questionable arrests and reclassifying crime reports all in the name of proving that CompStat cuts crime. The irony is CompStat was intended to enhance accountability and improve police leadership, not the reverse.

Perhaps the most shameful part of this sordid tale (one that decent and hardworking NYPD street cops themselves probably cannot believe) is the story of officer Adrian Schoolcraft. Like Serpico, Schoolcraft uncovered police wrongdoing, this time by secretly taping conversations of his bosses.

The NYPD precinct where Officer Schoolcraft's secret tapes were recorded 
Lamplighters like Serpico and Schoolcraft are often ostracized (in Serpico's case he was shot by druggies when his backup didn't show; in Schoolcraft's case he was dragged in front of a psychiatrist to prove he's insane). Schoolcraft ended up filing a federal lawsuit against NYPD.

The study confirmed Schoolcraft's allegations. In later reports the criminologists (one a former NYPD Captain) claim that NYPD has become a place of "relentless pressure, questionable activities, unethical manipulation of statistics. We've lost the understanding that policing is not just about crime numbers, it's about service."

Service indeed! That demand should be made of everyone in charge of public safety.

All which leads me to wonder: How widespread is this fuzzy math? Are there better models for accountability and measuring success and failure? Perhaps it's time to rethink an entirely new model of police services?