Back in the early nineties, there were more than 2,000 murders a year in New York City. Crime was depressing the economy, people and businesses were fleeing, and fear was destroying the city’s vitality. Even the most committed public officials were throwing up their hands in surrender.
Then along came the insufferably cocky and unlovable team of Rudy Giuliani and William Bratton. These were tough, ambitious men, leaders who had unshakable resolve and a talent for motivating those around them. But they also had Jack Maple. A short, fat, funny-looking, bow-tie-wearing, derby-clad former transit cop (a transit cop, for God’s sake, practically the bottom of the law-enforcement food chain)—who also happened to be a genius. Maple had a plan, one he’d worked on for years at a table in the back of Elaine’s.
While “enlightened” people had argued since the sixties that crime was inextricably linked to poverty and drugs and social injustice, Maple had other ideas. He believed he’d found the real root cause of crime: criminals. And while police couldn’t do much about social problems, they could certainly do something about criminals. So he developed, along with a consultant named John Linder, a series of strategies to deal with guns, drugs, youth violence, quality-of-life offenses, and auto theft.
The problem was implementation. Some precincts embraced the new ideas, and others resisted. “Some commanders felt they could outlast us,” says former NYPD spokesman John Miller, who recently gave up his 20/20 anchor chair to join Bratton in the Los Angeles Police Department. “They thought—or maybe hoped—we’d eventually go away.”
So Maple kept visiting the precincts where crime wasn’t falling at the rate he thought it should. And he’d go during the day as well as in the middle of the night, because the strategies applied to all tours, not just the 8 a.m.–to–4 p.m. or the 4 p.m.–to–midnight. He’d look at the crime maps, and he’d talk to the commanders. Are you thoroughly debriefing all prisoners? he’d ask. Are you going after the accomplices? Are you keeping up with your warrants and chasing down fugitives? Show me your drug arrests, he’d bark. Now show me where the drug complaints are. He drove everybody nuts.
But it was also taking a toll on him. Some nights, he’d be lucky to get two hours of sleep. One morning, after being up all night visiting precincts out in Queens, he ran into Miller in the elevator at One Police Plaza. “This has to end,” he said. “There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get to all these places. From now on, they’re gonna come to me. I’m gonna call a meeting at headquarters and we’ll give them doughnuts and coffee and we’ll go borough by borough and every precinct commander will have to come. We’ll go through their crime stats for the week in detail and see what’s going on.”
And so CompStat was born. The meetings used computer-generated crime statistics and electronic mapping. But all the high-tech electronics and even some of the elaborate strategies were essentially window dressing. At its core, Maple’s strategy was based on an idea that now seems so incredibly obvious that it’s almost impossible to believe no one had suggested it sooner: accountability. Make each precinct commander responsible for what happens in his area. Just as though they were running a little business or a division of a large company.
And Maple hammered every commander who came to a meeting unprepared. If robberies were up in the four-five, that C.O. better have had some suggestions to deal with them. Otherwise, he risked not only humiliation at the CompStat meeting but career derailment as well. The process could be harsh, even cruel, and many commanders complained to the mayor. But Giuliani loved it.
Maple’s plan is still working ten years later. The city’s crime rate, which has fallen nearly 70 percent since the days when he patrolled the subways, continues—unbelievably—to decline. Look at it this way: You could fill Madison Square Garden with all the would’ve-been-dead people who are alive simply because Maple figured it out. Maple, who died in the middle of the summer of 2001 from colon cancer at the age of 48, left a remarkable legacy. CompStat has changed big-city police work forever. Police departments in L.A., Philadelphia, Miami, and Baltimore and the Maryland state troopers are being run (or have been run) by former NYPD brass who made their reputations during those glory days when CompStat was first implemented.
I remember sitting with Maple in his cramped office at police headquarters back in 1995. Sipping an espresso, his two-tone black-and-white shoes up on the desk, he playfully begged me to keep feeding him the various theories about why crime in New York was falling. None of them, of course, credited the Police Department. “I’d be very happy to get all the criminologists to come in here together,” he said, unable to contain his joy. “They can put all their grant money in a big pile in the middle of the floor, and then we’ll settle this. Winner take all.”
Finally, he took his feet off the desk, leaned toward me in his chair, and for just a moment looked deadly serious. “You know,” he said in earnest, “they assume all police departments are the same. Is every baseball team the same? Of course not. There was a ’27 Yankees. That’s who we are. We’re the ’27 Yankees.”