Cops Love Data

Via USA Today:

For more than a decade, coteries of academics, and ex-cops who became academics, have been selling the idea that CompStat, the police command accountability and crime strategy system developed in the New York Police Department in the mid-1990s, is responsible for the deterioration of police-community relations across the country.


Nothing could be further from the truth. These critics are not that knowledgeable about CompStat as it is practiced, and certainly not as it has been practiced in the NYPD over the past three years.


What they present is a ludicrous caricature of CompStat as a numbers-driven juggernaut that rolls over peaceful and unsuspecting neighborhoods for no better reason than to jack up enforcement numbers such as arrests, summonses and stops. They suggest that precinct commanders, having been “humiliated” at CompStat sessions because of high-crime numbers, come back to their precincts and demand that cops crack down on neighborhoods on pain of being denied days off or assigned to undesirable shifts.


In turn, these officers supposedly go out into the streets and abuse the public.


Although CompStat appeared at times to have placed too heavy an emphasis on numbers, the case against it is an exaggeration. CompStat has been adopted by police departments across the country and around the world because it applied a much needed focus to the complex challenges of policing a large city.


The real risk in large police organizations is not overzealous policing but the tendency to drift and lose focus because of a lack of strategic oversight.


Absent this oversight prior to CompStat, New York’s precinct commands weren’t grappling with emerging crime trends effectively; detective squads weren’t identifying and shutting down patterns of robberies and burglaries swiftly; and special units like narcotics squads weren’t coordinating their efforts with precincts or detectives very well.


Individual cops and detectives were working hard, but the department as a whole was spinning its wheels more often than not as crime, and especially violence, continued to climb in the 1970s and 1980s.


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