In the 1980’s crime in New York City was at an all time high, with 2,000 murders happening every year. In 1994, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton and his Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple unveiled their solution to the crime wave attacking the city. CompStat.
CompStat (which stands for COMParative STATistics) is a multilayered computer system, however it’s main function was meant to be a database for crime statistics. Jack Maple, the innovator behind the program wanted all precincts to submit to him all of the reported crime in their area. Robbery, murder, rapes, car theft, larceny, arson; he wanted it all. Then he took all of that aggregate data and held weekly meeting with all of the police chiefs. Using the data, he would use dots on a map to show what crime was taking place where. In these meetings the chiefs would have to answer to Maple about the crime in their area, why was it happening and what were they going to do about it. By the end of 1995, murders went down by 39%. But like all new technology, someone somewhere will find a way to abuse and break the system for their own gain.
Instead of being used for its original purpose to help control crime, it became weaponized as a tool of punishment and coercion. No police chief wanted to be the one called in the weekly meetings, and therefore they began to put pressure on their police officers to downgrade crimes. Often times officers would be encouraged to not report theft or rape; or they would attempt to make the victim speak in a way where they could submit a report for a lesser charge.
In this way, the police chiefs could make it look like they were keeping crime down in their precinct and get promoted. Once they were gone, it was up to the new police chief to also make sure that his numbers looked good. In addition, officers were told that they had to issue a set number of summons before they could end the day (to show they were making an effort), leading to the 00’s era of stop and frisk. However 80% of the time the people that stopped were innocent, and 85% of those people were black and Latino.
Now with the massive amounts of data and the algorithms present in CompStat the NYPD says they may be able to predict crime before it happens, a move out of Minority Report. They say that based on the new AI program they can predict what crimes will occur in what area, and who is the most likely perpetrator. However the NYPD’s chief of crime-control strategies, Dermot Shea, says that CompStat should be used to show the importance of communication and coordination.
I agree with Dermot Shea. I think the data that police received should be used as a guideline and not as certainty. Police shouldn’t just be looking at those dots on the map, they should be using that data to build connections which will lead to stronger cases and higher convictions. If the NYPD can properly use this information, I believe we can build a better relationship with law enforcement and their communities.
- Vogt, PJ. Goldman, Alex(Host). (2018, October 28). #127 The Crime Machine, Part I & II[Audio podcast]. https://gimletmedia.com/shows/reply-all/o2hx34.
- Smith, Chris. “The Crime-Fighting Program That Changed New York Forever.” Intelligencer, New York Magazine, 2 Mar. 2018, nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/03/the-crime-fighting-program-that-changed-new-york-forever.html.
- Giacalone, Joseph L., and Alex S. Vitale. “When Policing Stats Do More Harm than Good: Column.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 11 Feb. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/policing/spotlight/2017/02/09/compstat-computer-police-policing-the-usa-community/97568874/.