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What’s Eating the NYPD?

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The officers pictured here were photographed at random in public places in the city. None of them were interviewed by New York Magazine or have any connection to the officers quoted in this article.  

For all Perez’s enjoyment of his adventures—and pride that he never had to fire his weapon—what’s particularly interesting about his career is that it spans the CompStat era. He came onto the force five years before the arrival of Commissioner Bill Bratton and his colorful, innovative sidekick, Jack Maple, who brought New York policing into the modern-­technology era. CompStat mapped crime data to show where patterns and trouble spots were forming. It also brought together commanders for regular meetings to share tactical expertise and ideas. But CompStat was also a necessary shock to a complacent system: Top brass grilled the field bosses, sometimes mercilessly, on what they were doing to solve problems, and if changes and solutions weren’t in place by the next meeting, transfers and demotions were made.

Most of those elements continue in the Kelly era, and they’ve been honed as better technology makes ever-more-detailed crime numbers available faster. Kelly’s close-cropped hair and squashed nose make him look like the classic Irish cop and Marine combat vet, and he’s authentically both. The part of his résumé that’s often overlooked is that Kelly has a master’s in public administration from Harvard, and he remains a fan of dispassionate analysis. CompStat’s role in reforming the department’s management practices has been well established and mythologized, but what’s less well understood is how CompStat’s focus on numbers has filtered down and permeated daily police life. Depending on your rank, it ranges from an annoying background hum to an ever-present pounding on the brain. For frontline supervisors in each precinct, preparing for the CompStat cross-­examination inside One Police Plaza is a time-consuming task. One recent morning, for instance, it was the 113th Precinct in Queens on the griddle. Commanding officers stood at the podium at the open end of a horseshoe of tables; staring back at them were a dozen of the NYPD’s top brass, supported by a row of aides. The deputy commissioner of operations at the time, Patrick Timlin, was incredulous: “We can muster one collar? One legitimate robbery collar? In 28 days?”

“This is not an excuse, but … ”

“There are no buts!” Timlin interrupted. “The 113, awright, is one of the top places in the city, for robberies, for shootings, awright? It’s a big, big dog. We can’t operate with one collar from the squad, awright?”

Timlin pulled out a report on the unsolved theft of a 14-year-old’s iPhone on a city bus. “Where’s the urgency?” he demanded. “This kid gets robbed, walks in [at 8 a.m.], and at 22:11 at night, we go out and do a witness canvass! Has the bus driver been interviewed?”

“The bus driver has not been interviewed.”

“How is that possible?”

“We don’t know which bus driver it is at this point.”

“How many bus drivers drive that route at eight in the morning? I think we could probably figure that out … I have a plan here, and it’s now been six weeks. And we’re not seeing any changing course.”

“Chief, that was specifically directed toward burglaries … ”

Timlin interrupted. “No! … It was directed toward performance in the squad. That statement is totally unacceptable, awright? … You can stand up there and tell me that we couldn’t do it because we had seven homicides that day. Then I’ll accept that. But when you say, we were told to do it on burglaries, that’s outrageous!”

If this were a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight. The Queens cops tried to plead a shortage of manpower and got no sympathy. “But it’s the truth,” another cop says later. “There simply aren’t enough cops to do everything they want. But you can’t say that. And so everything flows downhill.”

The heat put on supervisors in CompStat gets passed to middle management, then on to the cops in the street. In some respects, the urgency and attention to detail are inspiring. “If you have a bunch of shootings on, say, Livonia Avenue in Brooklyn, there are very few people or agencies—including City Hall, HRA, homeless services, Consumer Affairs, the nonprofit poverty groups—who give a shit about these corners as much as the Police Department,” says a Bloomberg-administration veteran. “The degree of accountability in the Police Department is pretty intense: ‘Where is the ATM? What did you do about the witnesses?’ It’s their job to make those numbers go down, and it’s their motivation for career advancement, and so they care very deeply.”

Cops say that CompStat sometimes gets warped into numbers for numbers’ sake, and it grinds at community relationships. “I grew up in the South Bronx, and in the summer we’d throw a football in the street at night,” an eighteen-year veteran lieutenant says. “The cops would roll by and say, ‘Fellas, just keep it quiet.’ Now we need to make the number, so we write all those kids summonses for dis con—disorderly conduct. And they grow up hating cops.”


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