July 18, 2015

The NYPD and Fudged Figures

What happens when police officers are both evaluated based on a statistical analysis of criminal activity taking place in their precinct and given primary responsibility for keeping track of said activity? Give yourself a gold star if you guessed that some officers might play a little fast and loose with the figures.

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It was reported yesterday that NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has announced the transfer of the commanding officer of the 40th precinct in the Bronx, along with a lieutenant, eight sergeants, nine officers, and one detective, as a result of under reporting of criminal complaints. This statistical manipulation serves a multitude of purposes, the most obvious of which is to show an artificial decline in the crime rate within the precinct.

Statistics are a critical component of crime fighting in the NYPD, which relies heavily on its CompStat program to track criminal activity throughout the city with great specificity. These analytics allow the NYPD to adjust its tactics and personnel deployment in sync with the activity it is seeking to suppress. Speaking generally, analytics are a useful tool for gaining insight into whatever business you are in, and policing is no exception, providing of course that your statistics are accurate.

As a side note, such a heavy emphasis on statistics comes with a price. The NYPD, understandably, wants its officers to meet certain numerical requirements. Yes, I know the department routinely denies that there are "quotas" but the evidence of required "activity levels" is compelling. By requiring numbers, quality is often sacrificed for quantity. Whether it's patrol officers scrambling to meet their monthly summons and arrest figures or detectives looking for informants to sign up, search warrants to write, or bodies to arrest, the need to create a statistical body of work often pushes officers into making baseless arrests or engaging in related misconduct. 

In this regard, it is not surprising that the NYPD rewards arrest numbers without regard for what happens to those arrested. In many cases -- say, a search warrant execution by a narcotics team -- a small amount of drugs may be found on someone's person, but the officers proceed to arrest everybody in sight. Prosecutors often decline those prosecutions or dismiss the cases shortly thereafter (which sometimes results in civil lawsuits). Such outcomes matter not to the NYPD, which does not distinguish between arrests that lead to felony convictions and those that prosecutors summarily reject without bothering to charge anyone. That is to say, it is the arrest numbers that matter most, not their validity.

All of this means that the bottom line numbers offered up by the NYPD should be treated with no small amount of skepticism. Whether it is the amount of crimes supposedly taking place, or the number of arrests being made, these numbers often lie.

Video of Police Shooting in Gardena Released

In June 2013, in Gardena, California, local police officers shot unarmed brothers Ricardo Diaz Zeferino and Augustin Reynoso as they stood in front of the officers. Zeferino was killed and Reynoso left with a bullet lodged next to his spine. The incident was captured from two different video cameras, which demonstrate the absence of any justifiable basis for the officers' decision to open fire.

As detailed in this story in the L.A. Times, the local district attorney chose not to file charges against the officers, stating that Zeferino was seen reaching for a weapon. A civil lawsuit followed during which the video was released subject to a protective order (meaning that the lawyers could not use it outside the litigation). The plaintiffs' lawyers argued that the video showed a baseless shooting of two unarmed men. Gardena continued to argue that the video showed the officers responding to a man reaching for a weapon in his waistband. Ultimately, Gardena paid $4.7 million.

The L.A. Times, Bloomberg, and the Associated Press, sought the release of the video. Last week United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson granted that request. Defense attorneys raced to the Court of Appeals for a stay of the order but not fast enough to prevent its release.

This is the video that Gardena did not want the public to see.

July 17, 2015

Garner Settlement: Good for All Concerned

The family of Eric Garner recently agreed to settle the estate's claims against the City of New York for $5.9 million. What is perhaps most notable about the agreement is that, once again, the deal was brokered on behalf of the City by Comptroller Scott Stringer. Whatever one's thoughts about the dollar amount, it's a good deal for all sides. The biggest beneficiary? Possibly Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The entire City of New York needed this case to be resolved quickly. A protracted legal and public relations battle would have been a disaster and could easily have turned into something very, very nasty. It was important that all sides come together and acknowledge what had happened and make a public showing of contrition. That it happened prior to any actual litigation worked out just perfectly for de Blasio, who must have been dreading this lawsuit.

July 11, 2015

NYPD Stop and Frisks on the Decline

According to a recent article in the NYLJ, the number of NYPD stop and frisks has been in a steep decline since 2011, when the police logged 685,724 events. By 2014, officers recorded just 46,235 such stops. That the drop off has been dramatic is obvious; the underlying reasons a bit less so, although the newly appointed federal monitor, Peter Zimroth believes it may be the result of uncertainty and a lack of understanding on the part of the officers.

It's easy enough to ascribe that to inadequate training, but that explanation is too facile. The reality is that race is perceived by many officers as a perfectly legitimate reason to suspect criminality is afoot, particularly when we are talking about young black men in certain neighborhoods.