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Crime statistics doubts adding up

June 30, 2003

The suspicions that the Police Department is downgrading crime statistics are, at this point, only anecdotal.

Some of it is fomented by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association to support its own agenda.

Nonetheless, the evidence keeps on coming.

The PBA says the 50th Precinct's union delegate was transferred from the Bronx to Queens because he defended a police officer who refused to downgrade the attempted theft of $1,800 in merchandise from a felony to a misdemeanor.

A former police official tells Newsday he personally had to call the desk sergeant at the 61st Precinct in Brooklyn to report a theft of $5,000 because detectives refused to take the victim's complaint.

A former Brooklyn precinct commander allegedly discouraged robbery complainants by insisting the complaints be taken only by detectives at the precinct, not by the officers responding to the robbery.

A Manhattan squad commander last week told Newsday, "Many victims are talked out of filing complaints [because] they have told their story to three or four precinct-level cops and bosses who question them with an eye to sculpting the victim's story to fit the criteria of a downgrade."

A retired squad commander says that after some complaints are thrown out, the original complaint number is used for another complaint, eliminating the paper trail for the first one.

The Police Department acknowledges it is investigating allegations that a retired sergeant doctored crime statistics in the 10th Precinct by preparing two sets of books but claims the number of downgraded crimes is minuscule.

So why are there so many allegations about the department downgrading crimes?

The reason is COMPSTAT, the department's computerized statistics program, which, since its inception in 1994 under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, has changed the department's culture no less than the Knapp Commission did in the 1970s.

That is no small feat - and no exaggeration.

And as a former deputy commissioner says, "It is certainly not a bad thing."

Indeed it isn't. Just as the the Knapp Commission ended the department's systemic corruption, so has COMPSTAT led to an accountability about crime that continues a decade later.

Many feel that one reason Police Commissioner Ray Kelly took a half-million-dollar pay cut from the private sector to return as police commissioner was to prove he could reduce crime as effectively as Bratton.

But just as the Knapp Commission had a negative side-effect, so has COMPSTAT.

In cracking down on corruption, the department during the 1970s and 80s limited uniformed officers from making narcotics arrests. It limited their vulnerability to corruption, but it also led to a two-decade explosion in crime.

COMPSTAT's success has made crime reduction a political issue as never before. This makes department commanders vulnerable to doctoring statistics.

"COMPSTAT's negative fallout is that the mayor knows that everyone is waiting around for crime to rise," said another former deputy commissioner.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he said, "knows there are 15 Democrats waiting for a chink in the armor and that Bratton, who by then will probably be fired as police chief of Los Angeles, will return to advise the leading mayoral opponent as he did Mark Green in 2001."

No one seems more aware of this than Kelly, who begins virtually all in-house news conferences with a positive crime statistic.

Many he has offered are misleading or statistically insignificant - such as a reduction in a current week's homicides compared with the same week the year before.

Last week, Kelly wrote in the Daily News: "It is curious that commentators waited until now to express alarm about a modest midyear uptick in murders but remained silent in 1999 and 2000 when homicides increased for two successive years."

Says the second former deputy commissioner: "If you don't answer the charges, they take a life of their own. The media is driving this. You don't see community groups complaining. Kelly has to respond. He has no alternative."

Our Man in Baghdad [con't]. Temperatures must have been too hot in Baghdad last week for former Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who returned stateside for some R and R.

One Police Plaza Confidential was unable to confirm "chatter" between Kerik and the Police Foundation's Pam Delaney that the real reason for Kerik's trip was to pick up a dozen Bernie-busts of himself to replace toppled statues of Saddam Hussein.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.