Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New York's Crime Reduction Myth: The Police Have Been Massaging the Numbers

One of the most infuriating public policy myths is the putative success of the Manhattan Institute's zero tolerance broken windows theory of policing. "All hail Giuliani for drastically reducing crime in New York by getting rid of those squeejee men evildoers," goes the myth. Who cares if that entails turning New York into a racist police state. Who care if other big cities with more humane policing techniques saw similar crime drops during the 90s boom. At least Giuliani and Bloomberg got rid of crime.

Or not. It turns out they've been massaging the numbers.

This excellent Voice expose reveals that there is strong evidence that the police departments of Bloomberg (and likely Giuliani before him) have been underreporting thefts (which make up the vast majority of crimes in the city, thus lowering the overall numbers year after year). Cooking the books on thefts (classifying them as "lost property") suggests that those same police are not to be trusted when it comes to their reporting of violent crimes.

In other words, the steadily declining crime statistics are total bullshit.

As Stephen Mastrofski, director of the Administration of Justice Program at George Mason University, said to the Voice, "The problem is that when you develop a system (like CompStat) that applies a lot of pressure on people to accomplish something that is difficult, some people (and sometimes quite a few) will take the easy route to show that they are meeting the new performance expectation. Same with body counts in the military in time of war. And cooking the books in the private sector."

NYPD Confidential reports that even aside from cooking the books, Bloomberg is using a crime index that the FBI itself has discredited, since "the old crime index gave equal weight to such non-violent crimes as burglary or larceny as to murder, assault, rape and robbery. The FBI report says that the non-violent category of larceny – theft – makes up 59.4% of all reported crime and 'the sheer volume of those offenses overshadows more serious but less frequently committed offenses' such as rape and murder."

The myth of New York being the country's safest large city is what makes New Yorkers swallow practices that would otherwise make them retch. Practices like infiltration of political groups, racial profiling, and omnipresent videotaping of every little step you take.

And now the evidence is clear: those crime reduction myths are nothing more than Giuliani/Bloomberg propaganda.

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  • At 3:55 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    An anecdote, really worth nothing as evidence: Last summer, when I was mugged, the police failed to file a report even though I repeatedly called the station and even stopped by in person. It makes me wonder whether in cases other than simple theft the police are also under pressure not to file reports on crimes that are likely to go unsolved.

  • At 4:00 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    If they're not cooking the books, though, the numbers are falling pretty impressively.

    Crime Numbers Keep Dropping Across the City:

    As of yesterday, there had been 537 killings in the city, according to the department's latest marking-period reports that are issued weekly. That is down from 566 in the same period last year. And it is down from 649 in all of 2001, when joblessness surged, anxiety from Sept. 11 was present and a budget crisis prompted a reduction in numbers of city police officers.
    In 2005, in addition to murders, numbers for rape, felony assault, burglary and grand larceny all fell, the department said.

    Auto theft, which, like murder, is considered a reliable indicator of crime patterns because there is little discretion in how to classify it and little reluctance in reporting it, fell by nearly 12 percent.

    I think broken-windows policing is total shit too, but it's definitely possible that an aggressively gentrifying city would have a steadily falling crime rate.

  • At 4:00 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Yeah, totally. The same thing happened when a friend of mine reported being gay-bashed. That was one of my points:

    We caught them lying about thefts. That strongly suggests they've been lying about other crimes, too.

  • At 4:03 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    At the same time, the NYT is kind of full of crap:

    Perception can be as much a measure of crime as reported statistics. In 1963, as today, some sensational cases made headlines for weeks. Then, it was the so-called Career Girl murders, the double homicide of a Newsweek researcher and a teacher on the Upper East Side. There were a total of 548 homicides that year. Now, it is Peter Braunstein, a writer suspected of posing as a firefighter in an Oct. 31 sex assault in Chelsea.

    Perception can be as much a measure as reported statistics, my ass.

  • At 4:16 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    But I wouldn't call the Voice's suggestive but basically circumstantial case "strong evidence." I think the PBA's claim that the department is cooking the books is probably stronger (but still not wholly convincing) proof. And your second link shows that even by the more credible FBI measures, New York is like the fifth safest city in the country.

  • At 4:19 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Auto theft, which, like murder, is considered a reliable indicator of crime patterns because there is little discretion in how to classify it and little reluctance in reporting it, fell by nearly 12 percent.

    Hm, this is somewhat convincing.

    But if the crime rate really is declining so precipitously, why do they need to underreport thefts? That seems to suggest that the true numbers are not what they want them to be.

  • At 4:24 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Ah, but that's the more accurate crime index according to people who have been shown to be liars.

    As the Voice article says:

    City health department data showed more people seeking hospital treatment for assaults even as the NYPD reported a sharp drop in aggravated assaults, one of the index crimes. At the same time, simple assaults, misdemeanor offenses, stayed roughly the same instead of plunging along with the number of aggravated assaults. This was consistent with police union officials' charges that felony assaults were downgraded to misdemean ors. The skyrocketing number of lost- property reports is a further indication of the need for an independent probe of the stats.

    That's enough for me to distrust CompStat numbers.

  • At 4:27 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Wait, you deleted your comment where you summarized the NY Times article about crime stats, which makes my reply somewhat nonsensical. ;)

  • At 4:27 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    No i didn't.

  • At 4:34 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    For like two minutes there was another reply (maybe from someone else, not you?) about how the NY Times reports today that murder and auto theft rates have been falling. I even quoted it in my reply.

    Anyhow, I was being a little rhetorically hyperbolic in my original post. But don't you agree that the Voice makes a good case that they're massaging the numbers, and they wouldn't have to massage the numbers unless the numbers revealed trends that they didn't like?

  • At 4:36 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Put it this way: I think the Voice puts forward a good enough circumstantial case to get a strong indictment, but not enough to convict. I do think independent investigation is warranted, but it probably won't happen.

    And on my computer, the comment quoting from the Times still shows up.

  • At 4:44 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Oh, my puter must be acting up.

    Agreed that it's a somewhat circumstantial case, but it's enough for me to believe what I wanted to believe anyhow. LOL.

    Uh oh I hope no right wing conspiracists read that, or they'll be like "I told you that's how liberals think." Note to right wing nutjobs: I'm being tongue in cheek.

    Anyhow, happy new year! I'm off to dinner at Mei's...

  • At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Viagra Online said…

    The father of a really good friend of mine was a police officer, he told us one day a few years ago, that in fact the crime reduction number never decreases, they just say it to make people fell a little more safe on the streets.


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