A new study based on a survey of nearly 2,000 officers argues that NYPD employees regularly manipulate crime reports—by downgrading crimes and discouraging victims from filing complaints—to make crime statistics look better. Naturally, the NYPD denies the allegations, which one surveyor who retired in 2008 describes like this: "Assault becomes harassment, robbery becomes grand larceny, grand larceny becomes petit larceny, burglary becomes criminal trespass."
To come to their conclusions, Dr. Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and John A. Eterno, a retired New York police captain, earlier this year reached out to 4,069 former officers who had retired since 1941. 1,962 of them responded (44 percent of whom had retired since 2002) and:
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.
The questionnaire did not ask for specific examples, but it did invite respondents to comment. The summary included remarks from six former officers, but did not indicate their ranks.
One officer, who retired in 2005, wrote that he heard a deputy commissioner say in a “pre-CompStat meeting” that a commanding officer “should just consolidate burglaries that occurred in an apartment building and count as one.”
The study is likely to reignite the increasingly heard criticism of the NYPD's statistically oriented method of crime prevention, which has been coming in and out of the spotlight regularly in the past few years (just ask "Bed-Stuy Serpico" Adrian Schoolcraft). Still, the NYPD's spokesman Paul Browne isn't buying it.
After being provided with a summary of the study by the Times, Browne "dismissed the survey as junk science," telling the paper of record that "the questionnaire was apparently e-mailed to a 'tiny sample' of former officers who had retired within the past seven decades." He also said that "More importantly, they don’t acknowledge the sampling bias inherent in the self-selection of their respondents."
The study's authors, however, don't agree, pointing out that "the survey was sent to officers who had indicated they were willing to return to the force in an emergency, showing that they had a generally positive opinion of the Police Department."
And of course, it is Browne's job to try and put the police department in the best light—even when it is obvious to anyone with eyes that basic manipulation is happening all the time. As Franklin Zimring, a criminologist whose studies of the NYPD's stats Browne actually points to as an example that massive manipulation is not happening, says, there was always "some underreporting, and there is some downgrading in every police force that I know of." The only question with the NYPD is how much it is happening.