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CompStat—or COMPSTAT—(short for COMPlaint STATistics) is the name given to the New York City Police Department's accountability process and has since been replicated in many other departments. CompStat is a management philosophy or organizational management tool for police departments, roughly equivalent to Six Sigma or TQM, and was not a computer system or software package in its original form. Through an evolutionary process, however, some commercial entities have created turnkey packages including computer systems, software, mobile devices, and other implements collectively assembled under the heading of CompStat Instead, CompStat is a multilayered dynamic approach to crime reduction, quality of life improvement, and personnel and resource management. CompStat employs Geographic Information Systems and was intended to map crime and identify problems. In weekly meetings, ranking NYPD executives meet with local precinct commanders from one of the eight patrol boroughs in New York City to discuss the problems. They devise strategies and tactics to solve problems, reduce crime, and ultimately improve quality of life in their assigned area.
The system is also in use in other major cities including Washington, DC,Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Austin, San Juan, San Francisco, New Haven, CT  and Baltimore, Maryland (where the system is shown in use in The Wire on HBO, though in the show it is referred to as "ComStat." In reality, Baltimore's real-life system is called Citistat.).
CompStat was started by Jack Maple when he was a Transit police officer. The original Commanding officer of the Transit Police Crime Analysis Unit was Lieutenant Richard Vasconi. It was called Charts of the Future and was simple - it tracked crime through pins stuck in maps. Charts of the Future is credited with cutting subway crime by 27 percent.
Chief of New York City Transit Police William J. Bratton was later appointed Police Commissioner by Rudolph Giuliani, and brought Maple's Charts of the Future with him. Not without a bit of struggle, he made the NYPD adopt it after it was rebranded as CompStat, and it was credited with bringing down crime by 60%. There was a CompStat meeting every month, and it was mandatory for police officials to attend. The year after CompStat was adopted, 1995, murders dropped to 1,181. By 2003, there were 596 murders—the lowest number since 1964.
On a weekly basis, personnel from each of the NYPD's 77 precincts, nine police service areas and 12 transit districts compile a statistical summary of the week's crime complaints, arrests and summons activity, as well as a written report of significant cases, crime patterns and police activities. This data, with specific crime and enforcement locations and times, is forwarded to the chief of the department's CompStat Unit, where information is collated and loaded into a city-wide database.
The unit runs computer analysis on the data and generates a weekly CompStat report. The report captures crime complaints and arrest activity at the precinct, patrol borough and city-wide levels, presenting a summary of these and other important performance indicators.
The data is presented on a week-to-date, prior 28 days and year-to-date basis, with comparisons to previous years' activity. Precinct commanders and members of the agency's top management can easily discern emerging and established crime trends, as well as deviations and anomalies. With the report, department leadership can easily make comparisons between commands. Each precinct is also ranked in each complaint and arrest category.
The CompStat program involves weekly crime control strategy meetings. These gatherings increase information flow between the agency's executives and the commanders of operational units, with particular emphasis on crime and quality of life enforcement information. In the department's vernacular, these briefings are referred to as CompStat ("computerized statistics") meetings, since many of the discussions are based upon the statistical analysis and maps contained within the weekly CompStat reports.
These meetings and the information sharing they generate are an important part of Bratton's comprehensive, interactive management strategy: enhancing accountability by providing local commanders with considerable discretion and resources. The program also ensures that precinct commanders remain aware of crime and quality of life conditions within their areas of responsibility. By meeting frequently and discussing the department's ten crime and quality of life strategies, the initiatives are fully implemented throughout the agency.
Precinct and other operational unit commanders use this forum to communicate with the agency's top executives and other commanders, sharing the problems they face and successful crime reduction tactics. The process allows top executives to monitor issues and activities within precincts and operational units, evaluating the skills and effectiveness of middle managers. By keeping abreast of situations "on the ground," departmental leaders can properly allocate resources to most effectively reduce crime and improve police performance.
It is important to note that the weekly CompStat report and crime strategy meetings do not focus simply on enforcement of the seven major crimes comprising the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) Index, but also capture data on the number of shooting incidents and shooting victims, as well as gun arrests. Summons and arrest activity are also captured.
By arresting or issuing summonses to people who engage in minor violations and quality of life offenses—such as public drinking and public urination, panhandling, loud radios, prostitution and disorderly conduct—ensures that those behaviors are deterred. As explained in the Broken windows theory, aggressive enforcement of all statutes has been shown to restore a sense of order. By capturing enforcement data as reflected in summons and arrest activity, the department is better able to gauge its overall performance.
The CompStat Unit also develops and prepares commander profile reports. These weekly reports help executives scrutinize commanders' performance on a variety of important management variables. All profiles furnish information about the unit commander's appointment date and years in rank, the education and specialized training he or she has received, his or her most recent performance evaluation rating, and the units he or she previously commanded.
Every profile also captures some non-crime statistics: the amount of overtime generated by members of the command, the number of department vehicle accidents, absence rates due to sick time and line-of-duty injuries, and the number of civilian complaints logged against members of the unit.
Community demographics and information on the unit's personnel is also included. With this data, executives can monitor and assess how commanders motivate and manage their personnel resources and how well they address important management concerns. The commander profile also acts as a motivational tool; profile subjects are familiar with the criteria used to evaluate them—and their peers—enabling report subjects to monitor and compare their own success in meeting performance objectives with others' achievements.
Crime Strategy Meetings are convened twice weekly in the Command and Control Center, a high-tech conference facility at Police Headquarters. These meetings are attended by all commanders of Precincts, Police Service Areas, Transit Districts and other operational unit commanders within a given Patrol Borough, including the commanding officers and /or supervisors of precinct-based and specialized investigative units. Depending on their weekly crime statistics, every commander can expect to be called at random to make his or her Crime Strategy Meeting presentation approximately once a month.
Also in attendance are representatives from the respective District Attorney's Offices, command personnel from the Department's School Safety Division and a variety of other outside agencies involved in law enforcement activities, the Transit and Housing Bureau Commanders whose jurisdictions lie within the patrol borough, the Crime Strategy Coordinators from other patrol boroughs, Internal Affairs Bureau personnel, and ranking officers from a variety of support and ancillary units (such as our Legal Bureau and Management Information Systems Division) which do not perform direct enforcement functions.
This configuration of participants fosters a team approach to problem solving, and ensures that crime and quality of life problems identified at the meeting can be immediately discussed and quickly addressed through the development and implementation of creative and comprehensive solutions. Because ranking decision-makers are present at the meetings and can immediately commit their resources, the obstacles and delays which often occur in highly structured bureaucratic organizations also tend to be minimized.
Among the Command and Control Center's high-tech capabilities is its computerized "pin mapping" which displays crime, arrest and quality of life data in a host of visual formats including comparative charts, graphs and tables. Through the use of geographic mapping software and other computer technology, for example, the CompStat database can be accessed and a precinct map depicting virtually any combination of crime and/or arrest locations, crime "hot spots" and other relevant information can be instantly projected on the Center's large video projection screens.
Comparative charts, tables and graphs can also be projected simultaneously. These visual presentations are a useful and highly effective adjunct to the CompStat Report, since it permits precinct commanders and members of the Executive Staff to instantly identify and explore trends and patterns as well as solutions for crime and quality of life problems.
During their presentation, members of the Executive Staff frequently ask commanders probing questions about crime and arrest activity as well as about specific cases and initiatives they have undertaken to reduce crime and enforce quality of life offenses. Commanders are expected to demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the crime and quality of life problems existing within their commands and to develop innovative and flexible tactics to address them.
As noted above, the weekly COMPSTAT meetings are but one facet of the Department's comprehensive system by which is monitored and used to evaluate the Department's performance. There are also pre-COMPSTAT briefings convened at the local patrol borough level, Precinct Management Team meetings in each precinct and strategy evaluation projects conducted by ranking members of the department. In addition, the Police Commissioner meets with New York City's Mayor on a weekly basis to brief them on the department's activities and performance.
The Police Commissioner also provides the Mayor with a formal report capturing much of the data contained within the CompStat Report. Finally, a great deal of the CompStat data and other indices of performance are provided to the public through inclusion in the Mayor's Management Report. This Report and the preliminary report issued four months into the Fiscal Year provide detailed comparative data on the performance of every mayoral agency within city government. The process permits personnel at all levels to monitor and assess the effectiveness of their efforts and re-direct those efforts when necessary.
Because it often relies on underlying software tools, CompStat has sometimes been confused for a software program in itself. This is a fundamental misconception. CompStat often does, however, incorporate crime mapping systems and a commercial or internally developed database collection system. In some cases, police departments have started offering information to the public through their own websites. In other cases, police departments can either create their own XML feed or use a third party to display data on a map. The largest of these is CrimeReports.com, used by thousands of agencies nationwide.
Another criticism of the COMPSTAT program is that it may discourage officers from taking crime reports in order to create a false appearance of a reduction of community problems. According to journalist Radley Balko, "some recent reports from New York City suggest the program needs some tweaking to guard against the twin dangers of unnecessary police harassment and underreporting of serious crimes." An anonymous survey of "hundreds of retired high-ranking police officials . . . found that tremendous pressure to reduce crime, year after year, prompted some supervisors and precinct commanders to distort crime statistics."
Similarly, crimes may be reported but downplayed as less significant, to manipulate statistics. As an illustration, before a department begins using CompStat it might list 100 assaults as aggravated and 500 as simple assault. If there were a similar pattern of underlying criminal activity the next year, but instead 550 assaults are listed in CompStat as simple and 50 as aggravated, the system would report that progress had been made reducing major crimes when in fact, the only difference is in how they are reported.
Manipulating reporting data may also negatively affect personnel and financial disbursement; communities whose improvements (on paper) show they need less resources could lose those resources—and still face the same amount of actual crime on the streets.
Many of these negative effects in the possible weaknesses of the COMPSTAT system were dramatized in HBO's The Wire, as part of an overarching theme of systemic dysfunction in institutions. Indeed, "[o]ne of the central themes of the critically acclaimed HBO series . . . was the pressure politicians put on police brass, who then apply it to the department’s middle management, to generate PR-friendly statistics about lowering crime and increasing arrests." In the show, this was referred to as "juking the stats".
The NYPD's TrafficStat was modeled after CompStat. TrafficStat tracks motor vehicle, bicyclist and pedestrian crashes.
Adrian Schoolcraft on This American Life 9/28/13; Public Radio International