Ray Kelly Has No Right to Condemn Falsifying of Crime Statistics

In a radio interview taped Monday, former NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly made an unsubstantiated claim that current police commissioner Bill Bratton is using falsified data to show record low crime rates.

“I think there is some issue with the numbers that are being put out,” Kelly told the host, IBT Local 237 president Gregory Floyd. “I think there is some redefinition going on as to what amounts to a shooting.”

First of all, Kelly did not cite one scintilla of evidence for his claim of a redefinition.

Secondly, even if the NYPD were fudging numbers, Kelly still has no right to criticize that conduct, because the NYPD engaged in that exact practice when he was police commissioner. (For that matter, that was also true when Bratton was commissioner in the Giuliani administration.)

In 2010, criminologists John A. Eterno and Eli B. Silverman released the findings of a survey of retired NYPD officers, which documented how they cooked the books with crime data.

Without disclosing their names, officers said they felt so much pressure to show reduced crime, particularly under the much-hyped CompStat system, that officers engaged in a number of practices to keep crimes off the books to manufacture an image that reforms were working.

One practice was for officers discouraging crime victims from reporting crimes, or persuading them to report the crime as a misdemeanor instead of a felony, because only the latter was recorded in CompStat.

Officers also admitted that, when reporting the value of a stolen item, there was a practice of valuing items by comparison shopping online – including checking eBay – to find the lowest possible value to report, because CompStat only required reporting thefts of items worth over a $1,000.

Of the 493 officers who completed the survey, about 100 said they were aware of unethical changes to criminal reports. We can only imagine how many chose not to disclose it.

No officer admitted to having personally engaged in criminal report misconduct.

The survey participants were not required to disclose specific incidents or disclose the frequency of misconduct, making it difficult to pin down its prevalence or trends over time. Another limitation was that the survey was mailed out and responses were voluntary,

Paul J. Browne, the NYPD chief spokesperson at the time, strongly defended the accuracy of crime statistics, noting that an audit of statistics was done twice a year: “where errors are discovered, they are corrected and reflected in revised crime statistics. In cases where it is determined that the errors were the result of intentional manipulation, the personnel responsible are disciplined.”

Browne said that, for a period of time spanning from 2002-2009, the department disciplined a whopping eleven officers for this misconduct.

But this survey is far from the only evidence that officers under Kelly were tweaking crime data. Moreover, the other evidence shows that it was an entrenched and widespread practice, in at least one precinct. That comes from the infamous “NYPD Tapes” from a hidden recorder carried by officer Adrian Schoolcraft from 2008 to 2009. Tapes revealed that in Brooklyn’s 81st Police Precinct, which covers Bedford-Stuyvesant, officers were ordered to discourage victims from reporting crimes that would show up in CompStat. Officers also came up with excuses not to report a crime, such as demanding victims come immediately to the precinct, then not file a report if they didn’t.

Paradoxically, they were also ordered to contrive pretenses to frisk and arrest people, in order to meet arrest quotas.

An internal investigation by the NYPD confirmed the tape’s findings.

So before Ray Kelly spreads baseless rumors on Bratton fudging data, he should remember what happened when he was commissioner.