Amid the cacophony of voices calling for budget changes that would sharply reduce the police force despite troubling rises in both homicides and shootings this year, Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea just got some unsolicited advice that's actually worth serious consideration from Captains' Endowment Association President Chris Monahan.
He made the case, in both a letter and a subsequent interview with this newspaper's Richard Khavkine, that if the NYPD truly wanted to improve its relations with minority communities, it should look at scrapping the 26-year-old CompStat program meant to measure commanders' performance while making it easier to spot crime trends.
Brought to the NYPD by Jack Maple, who developed it while working in the old Transit Police Department in tandem with the department's Chief—and subsequent city Police Commissioner—Bill Bratton, the program was given a large share of the credit for reducing crime and improving the department's ability to mobilize against certain crimes in particular areas as they emerged as trouble spots.
It was designed to help precinct commanders, but also held them more accountable by pinpointing problems and ordering them to respond or face consequences. Some critics of the NYPD have claimed it has a punishing culture in dealing with those who have fallen short of expectations in some way, and the rude treatment commanders who hadn't measured up received at monthly meetings became legendary.
They were so entertaining, at least to those not on the receiving end of the verbal flayings, that elected officials and business executives were sometimes invited to attend as observers. What then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and some of his top commanders were slow to grasp was that the comparisons that followed of one official running the sessions to Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of Spain during the 15th century religious purge, was not something to aspire to.
Humiliating precinct commanders who didn't produce results might pressure their colleagues to word harder to avoid similar treatment, but it didn't exactly build morale. And the bullying to which they were subjected was sometimes passed down the line, which wasn't going to wind up helping police/community relations once applied in the street.
It also led some commanders to move away from good policing in favor of piling up numbers that would impress the brass at 1 Police Plaza.The rotten fruits of those labors can be seen in the perversion of a stop-and-frisk program that when applied properly could be an effective policing tool. It was also seen in simultaneous attempts to goose arrests on specious grounds while downgrading certain other crimes. There was a common denominator to those divergent strategies: the right artificially inflated numbers could lead to promotions, and having too many of the "wrong" types of crimes in a precinct could spur a shakeup that would filter from Captains down to patrol officers.
Captain Monahan summed up the drawbacks of CompStat this way in his letter: it "puts pressure on precinct and division commanders to go into minority neighborhoods for targeted enforcement...by way of arrests and summonses."
He proposed that the CompStat grilling be replaced by community meetings in which commanders would meet with civic activists—including some departmental critics—to exchange perspectives and see whether common ground could be found. This might not be so easy to accomplish, since notwithstanding the voices urging wholesale change in the minority community, there are others who are at least as concerned about crime in their neighborhoods.
It is worth remembering—and perhaps pointing out to some of the anti-NYPD advocates—that the shooting death of Sean Bell in Queens 14 years ago when an undercover cop mistakenly thought he was about to participate in a drive-by shooting, grew out of a sting operation at a notorious club that had been the object of neighborhood complaints about it being a place where drug-dealing and prostitution were common.
Captain Monahan also noted to Mr. Khavkine that the department's tendency to flood troubled neighborhoods with cops who didn't normally work there sometimes created tensions that outweighed the positive results.
Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch supported his arguments, saying that CompStat "pushes 'accountability' for failing policing strategies down onto the cops who did not create them."
There is self-interest behind the position taken by the two union leaders. That doesn't mean it should be ignored by the Mayor and Police Commissioner at a time when answers to complaints about its tactics have proved elusive.
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