Download (direct link):
Originally a computer program to compare statistics (hence the name), Compstat grew into a management philosophy that places high levels of responsibility on police commanders, down to the precinct Captain level, to understand the crime problem in their areas and create effective strategies to deal with it. Under the New York model, all commanders are debriefed every two weeks at
RETHINKING THE ASSUMPTIONS
Police Headquarters to test their understanding of their area’s problems and to defend their track record in dealing with it. As Dodenhoff has noted:
In fact, to assume that Compstat was merely some sort of executive inquisition would be to miss the point utterly. Compstat is enabling the NYPD to pinpoint and analyze crime patterns almost instantly, respond in the most appropriate manner, quickly shift personnel and resources as needed, assess the impact and viability of anti-crime strategies, identify bright, up-and-coming individuals from deep within the ranks, and transform the organization more fluidly and more effectively than one would ever expect of such a huge police agency.37
He attributes these positive developments to the four guiding principles that make Compstat work:
1. Timely and accurate intelligence
2. Use of effective tactics in response to what that intelligence tells you
3. Rapid deployment of personnel and resources
4. Relentless follow-up and assessment
Since its inception in 1994, Compstat has continued to evolve to the point that it is now a much more robust and comprehensive crime-fighting tool, as noted by William Rashbaum in The New York Times. He observes that the system, which went on-line in 1994, now measures 734 “indicators,” from gathering spots for prostitutes to complaint rates against police officers. In effect, Compstat has become a living map of the city and, as such, a valuable diagnostic tool and targeting tool.38
It must be acknowledged that crime causation and prevention is a terribly complex business, and one must tread cautiously before crying “Eureka!” about any potential solution. Given that injunction, however, it seems clear that the four theories discussed previously have had at least some role, and perhaps a great role, in reducing crime and the public perception of crime as a threat. A New York Times article reviewing the law enforcement achievements at the end of the Giuliani administration in New York City noted that in 2001 violent crime registered its biggest drop in any of the previous five years, and even in those prior years it dropped an average of six percent a year. The article observed, however, that crime control may be affected by many factors, to include “general societal trends like a decreasing teenage population and declining use of crack cocaine, as well as crime-fighting tools Mr. Giuliani and his police commissioners introduced.” The article went on to note that in many other parts of the country crime seemed to be rebounding.39 What do these concepts have in common?
1. They are about community. Community is the common thread, and both the objective (to better serve the community) and the means (to interact with the community to more accurately assess needs and partner in solutions). Community may take many forms in these constructs. It may be residential, as in a neighborhood where people live, or conceptual, as with Times Square, where relatively few people live but thousands have business or other interactions each day. It is, most of all, bonded and defined by self-interest. It is a place where people have an interest in its well-being since this affects, or can affect, them.
2. They are all mental reconceptualizations. There is precious little technology here. Even Compstat is not driven by any computer program not readily available to most corporations. Vincent Henry, in his history of the development and utilization of the program, noted it used off-the-shelf software and a couple of personal computers and was, in its first incarnation, nothing more than an automation of the old push-pin maps that used to hang in precinct houses.40 These theories are grounded in a rethinking of assumptions, objectives, and relationships, which leads to a rethinking of strategies and tactics.
3. They are to some degree about partnerships, be they partnerships with the community or partnerships with other municipal agencies.
4. They are about intelligence. Not intelligence in the IQ sense, but intelligence about what is going on in the environment, whether that environment is the community or the police department.
5. They are about change. Not change for the sake of change, or replacing one massive bureaucratic structure with another, but change in the sense of experimentation, innovation, evaluation, and willingness to discard what does not work.
A survey of recent initiatives may be instructive in elucidating the forms and varieties of police activity that have evolved from the aforementioned concepts. The Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing is given by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) to police officers in the United States and abroad who engage in innovative and effective problem-solving efforts and measurably reduce problems of crime, disorder and public safety.” PERF notes in its annual awards announcement that the awards are meant to recognize efforts that are consistent with Goldstein’s theory that police should act to solve problems, rather than rely exclusively on the mechanisms of arrest. Or, put more generally, attempt to treat the causal conditions, rather than only the symptoms.41