NYPD Still Being Accused of Downgrading to Keep Crime Low

By
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27:  Members of the New York Police Department (NYPD) take part in a promotion ceremony attended by New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly at Police Headquarters on January 27, 2012 in New York City. Kelly appeared in the film "The Third Jihad" Muslim groups are asking him to step down, saying that the film they depicts Islam and its followers in a bad light. The film was shown to hundreds and maybe thousands of NYPD officers for training purposes. Commissioner Kelly refused to answer questions relating to rape allegations involving his son, TV host Greg Kelly.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images2012 Getty Images

Reports about the NYPD downgrading crimes to keep felony stats down have trickled out steadily over the years from the mouths of ex-officers, spurring a debate about how rampant, and intentional, the practice is. With crime up slightly last year and on track to rise again this year, eyes are back on the way in which officers decide which crimes are misdemeanors and which are felonies and how outside pressure about stats and quotas may affect the process. According to a department audit, the error rate in reporting crimes was just 1.5 percent last year, but a New York Times investigation into more than 100 recent police reports found some disturbing details conveniently left out. 

In a report taken on June 1 for a misdemeanor assault, a police officer wrote that the victim “states she was struck in the head.” But the same officer, in internal paperwork filed the same day, included an extra detail: the victim said she was struck “in the head with a bottle.”

The involvement of a blunt object like a bottle, left out in the original report, could qualify the crime as a felony.

Other anecdotes include a Brooklyn woman whose attempted rape at the hands of her estranged husband was reported by police as misdemeanor forcible touching and a theft at razor-point that police logged "as an amalgamation of misdemeanors — menacing, weapon possession and shoplifting — though the crime appeared to fit the definition of felony robbery. "

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne counters that it's "far more common for charges associated with police arrests to be downgraded through plea bargaining, if not abandoned outright through declined prosecutions," but the department's own jury is still out on the existence of downgrading. As reported by New York's Chris Smith earlier this year, "In January 2011, Kelly appointed a three-member panel to investigate whether crime-downgrading exists, and promised a report within six months. One panel member has since died, and the report is still in the works." According to the Times, we're still waiting.