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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.  

To Kelly, “stop, question, and frisk” is an essential tool used to get weapons off the street, especially in high-crime precincts. For the commissioner, the important facts are a 51 percent reduction in homicides compared to the previous decade and the seizure of more than 8,000 weapons, including 819 guns, in the past year. To critics, however, stop-and-frisk has become a ritualized harassment of neighborhoods—with just 12 percent of last year’s record 684,330 stops leading to arrests or summonses and one percent to the recovery of a weapon—and racist, with 87 percent of those stopped being black or Hispanic.

Yet cops say both arguments miss an important point: that stop-and-frisk is an easy way for supervisors to feed the statistical beast, to show that action is being taken to deal with spikes in crime.

“There’s all this talk about stop-and-frisks, whether it’s racist or harassment, but the public totally misses the game,” a Brooklyn cop says. “You know all the guys in the neighborhood, and usually when we roll up they frisk themselves. That is, if it’s a night they don’t feel like being bothered, they just lift up their shirts when we stop, and then they move on. If they feel like making a point to the boys they’re hanging with on the corner, they won’t do it. But the people who carry guns and shoot each other where I work are not white. There are no white people to begin with! But I always laugh. The civil-liberties people are the reason we have stop-and-frisk reports in the first place. The theory was, if cops were forced to write down what they were doing, they wouldn’t be so haphazard about stopping people and frisking them. But because the department loves data, now those reports are activity that can prove you’re taking action at CompStat.”

Two cops—Adrian Schoolcraft of Brooklyn and Craig Matthews of the Bronx—have taken the rare path of filing lawsuits alleging that they were persecuted for complaining about statistical manipulation and quotas. Schoolcraft says he was handcuffed by fellow cops and committed to a hospital psychiatric ward for six days. Others play along, saying they have come to know what’s expected. “You show up to someone who had their iPhone snatched, but you don’t put it over the air because you don’t know if it’s gonna be a crime yet,” a Manhattan cop says. “We have to bring the victim back to the station, where he’s gonna be waterboarded by the sergeant: ‘Are you sure you didn’t drop your phone?’ Next thing you know, it’s lost property. ‘Hey, maybe I left it on the train! Maybe it fell out of my pocket when I got punched in the face!’ ”

Cops fear a more serious consequence of the push for better numbers, that it propels colleagues forward in borderline situations. This February, in the Bronx, a narcotics cop chased 18-year-old Ramarley Graham into the bathroom of his family’s apartment. Officer Richard Haste suspected Graham of carrying a gun; during a struggle he shot and killed the unarmed man. One ex-cop, who has worked some of the same streets as Haste, says it appears tragic tactical mistakes were made. “But it’s important to remember that cops always have the need for numbers in their minds,” he says. “It might not be the top cause of what happened, him chasing the guy into the house, but it’s part of the motivation getting you to that position. You’re trying to get in there and get that body. So is it the pressure of ‘I can’t let this guy get away’? Or is he a number?”

Any large organization that keeps much of its top management team in place for a long period—and enjoys a mostly successful run—is vulnerable to rust. “Ray has become a little more hardened, a little more sure of himself, and unwilling to move or budge,” a former Kelly aide says. The commissioner is trying to combat stasis by hiring McKinsey, the management-consulting firm, to review the department from top to bottom. And in 2009, Kelly brought in Timlin, who’d been a respected senior commander in the Bronx and supervisor of detectives in Queens before retiring to run a private security company. Timlin led CompStat meetings for two years before returning to the private sector in February, but he also explored ways to invigorate the department, with a special focus on improving leadership in the crucial middle ranks, where CompStat’s pressures are turned into street action.

Kelly’s allies forcefully dispute the conventional wisdom that CompStat dominates the department’s every action. “The perception that CompStat numbers drive everything and affect people’s careers, it’s absolutely not true,” Timlin tells me this spring. “To read these books and articles, there’s like a slaughterhouse going on. The margins are narrower—we’re down 70 percent in crime in eighteen years in some places—and there will be blips that can look like huge spikes, statistically. That’s recognized. Commanders are not being flopped for crime going up. If people demonstrate best efforts, nobody’s being moved.”


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