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"Disappearing" Urban Crime
"The news for New York City is spectacular," New York's Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told a City Hall press conference on Monday. He and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly [Email him] were claiming credit for new FBI crime stats showing major crimes—murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, car theft, larceny and arson—dropping 5.8% in the city in 2003. New York's crime rate now ranks it 211th of the 230 U.S. cities with 100,000-plus population—behind Omaha, Nebraska and Wichita, Kansas.
Unfortunately, there must have been at least one skeptic at the press conference. Hizzoner reportedly "bristled" at suggestions that the city's crime stats are being driven down artificially by numbers-fudging police commanders.
"'C'mon," Bloomberg snapped. "It is just not the case. '" [Our incredible shrinking crime rate, by David Saltonstall, New York Daily News, May 25, 2004]
Well, I am a skeptic. I say: sure, it's the case! Because I've seen it.
Some reporters – most notably Leonard Levitt of Newsday—have intermittently written on crimes that have been "disappeared" in New York by creative police reporting. But to my knowledge, I am the only journalist actually to have been at the scene of one.
It occurred on December 8, 1995—when New York's crime decline had been supposedly underway for some five years. At about 10:30 p.m., on a Queens-bound A train, a man ended an argument with two brothers by shooting one of them. Then he exited at Kingston-Throop station, in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Riding two cars away, I neither saw nor heard the shooting. However, I interviewed a witness, saw the 20-something black victim on a gurney doing a convincing impression of a corpse, his inconsolable, raging (and apparently twin) brother accompanying him, and two emergency medical technicians wheeling away the gurney.
Since the train was a crime scene, we passengers had to exit it and the station, walk through "Bed-Stuy" to the Manhattan-bound local station, take a train three stops, and then turn around on a Queens-bound train that skipped the crime scene station.
It took me over three hours to get home that night.
In the subway below and on the street above, I counted no less than 39 police officers of every rank—an extraordinary response.
The huge response was because, approximately 12 hours earlier, a black supremacist named Roland Smith Jr. a.k.a. Abubunde Mulocko, had entered Jewish-owned Freddie's Fashion Mart in Harlem, which was besieged by a racist "boycott," yelled "It's on!," and ordered all customers to leave. In what became known as the Harlem Massacre, Smith proceeded to shoot four people, set the store ablaze, murder seven (non-white) store employees, and commit suicide.
That made for at least five shootings on December 8.
A few weeks later, I asked NYPD press rep Officer Kathie Kelly if there had been any shootings on December 8. She told me she'd get back to me.
Later, she informed me: "There were no shootings on the eighth."
Since 1991, I have fought off at least eight racial attacks, including two attempted muggings. All were "disappeared" by police or prosecutors—even when I had bloody wounds; when the police had been called to the scene by a subway motorman or (unbeknownst to me) an anonymous witness who corroborated my depiction of events; or when the attack took place on camera, in front of a black postal police officer. (In 1994, a black New Jersey bus driver who had recently fled Brooklyn, suggested that. in New York, crime victims require legal representation no less than defendants, if they wish their cases prosecuted.)
And the fudging of crime statistics is not just a story in the Naked City.
- On October 23, 2003, five New Orleans police officers—including First District captain, Norvel Orazio, a 29-year veteran, who had won awards for reducing crime—were fired, and a sixth was demoted, for improperly downgrading crime complaints so that they would not show up in crime statistics.
- On February 20, an audit of Atlanta's police records showed that the suppression and loss of crime records was endemic for many years, with 22,000 police reports of 911 calls disappearing in 2002 alone.
- Similar mini-scandals have also occurred in recent years in Philadelphia and Boca Raton, Florida.
Urban police departments have for years been under intense pressure to reduce violent crime. But blacks and Hispanics have a virtual monopoly over urban violent crime. (In New York City in 1998, 89.2 percent of suspects in violent crimes were black or Hispanic.) And police officials dare not offend outraged black and Hispanic criminals, or their supporters in the media and in politics who constantly invent "racial profiling" hoaxes.
The police's job is impossible. And so, instead of policing hoodlums, today's modern, urban police managers aggressively police ... impressions. The "disappearing" of crime is one of their leading impression management methods.
Critics may counter: "So what are you saying, they're hiding bodies?!"
Not at all. Keep in mind: most crime reporters do not ride late at night in subway cars to observe crime firsthand, drive through city streets listening to police scanners and racing to crime scenes, or take inventory at city morgues. They are more likely to ride through the city in taxicabs. Many seem to know—or want to know—only why police officials deign to tell them. And these officials simply refuse to report many violent felonies.
Detectives engage in the wholesale "unfounding" of crimes i.e. determine that allegation were "unfounded." And murders are reclassified as non-criminal deaths. But in most cases, crime is "disappeared" by the street officer who engages in "creative writing," turning felonies into misdemeanors or non-crimes. (An additional crime statistic reduction strategy, "de-policing," withdrawing police from embarrassing confrontation with criminals, is beyond the scope of this essay.)
It's been going on for years:
- On October 11, 1995, reporter William K. Rashbaum, then of the New York Daily News, published a memo he'd obtained from the 50th Precinct in The Bronx. The memo, by precinct commander, Capt. Anthony Kissik, instructed officers in the art of defining down crimes from felonies to misdemeanors or even non-crimes (e.g., a felony assault would be changed to a misdemeanor case of "harassment.")
- On January 29, 1996, Newsday's Leonard Levitt reported on two rapes, one murder, and one fatal shooting of a car thief by a police officer (which was eventually counted as a homicide) from the previous December, none of which had been reported by the NYPD. The NYPD brass insisted (get this!) that a mysterious, unnamed reporter had stolen the crime reports. Levitt found out about the incidents from relatives of the victims.
- On October 29, 1996, Captain Louis Vega, commander of the 41st Precinct in the South Bronx, was suspended without pay in a crime statistic fraud scandal. The Daily News quoted a stationhouse source as saying, "in any precinct you could go in and come up with complaints where the charges should be higher. There is tremendous pressure on precinct commanders to produce lower numbers." Captain Vega's mistake was apparently in violating the first law of lying: Plausibility. Crime was allegedly down 14% in the South Bronx overall from Jan. 1 to October 20, 1996 compared to the same period in 1995. But Vega reported a 40% crime reduction in his precinct.
- On January 1998, the NYPD's Transit Bureau was caught fudging violent crime stats. Bureau Chief William Donoghue was forced to resign. NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir, apparently a master of fuzzy math, insisted that the fraudulent underreporting of subway crime by 20 percent did not affect the NYPD's overall crime statistics: "While a true portrait of citywide crime was being painted, a somewhat skewed picture of crime in the subway was being put forth."
There's been a distinct political pattern to news stories on the underreporting of crime. In the 1990s, these stories were almost always published in the far-left Newsday or centrist Democrat Daily News. Apparently, the neoconservative New York Post so closely identified with Rudolph Giuliani's mayoralty (1994-2001) that it could not stomach such reporting. Conversely, the left-Democrat New York Times had a consuming hatred of Giuliani, but was too lazy for the gumshoe work.
But on February 4, 1999 Amadou Diallo, an illegal immigrant from Guinea, Africa, was tragically gunned down in the Soundview section of The Bronx by four white NYPD officers from the city's (since disbanded) elite Street Crimes Unit. The detectives were searching for Isaac Jones, the worst serial rapist in the city's history, who lived in the same neighborhood, and whose predations had caused hysteria in The Bronx. Diallo resembled the description of Jones. But once Diallo lay dead, the frenzied demands to bring in the rapist were forgotten.
As were the stories on fraudulent NYPD record-keeping.
Immediately following the Diallo shooting, socialist journalists and minority leaders joined to invent the "racial profiling" hoax. They charged (and still charge) that urban police round up and even murder innocent, minority men, based solely on the latter's race and ethnicity. This hoax was a continuation of the war on urban white police begun in the 1960s, which had gained new momentum with the 1991 Rodney King case in Los Angeles, and again with the 1993 New York mayoral campaign of the Rev. Al Sharpton. The goal of the journalists, who were essentially Democrat Party propagandists, was to discredit Giuliani and, ultimately, to frustrate his planned bid for the U.S. Senate against then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. Crime-fighting was central to Giuliani's appeal: during his two terms, violent crime allegedly dropped 54.3 percent, while property crime allegedly dropped 54.7 percent per 100,000 residents.
These journalists obviously sensed that publishing stories showing that police were underreporting crime would contradict the "racial profiling" hoax. I would not see another story on "disappeared" crime in a New York daily until after Giuliani had stepped down from office in January, 2002.
But two months into the administration of liberal Democrat-turned-Republican Michael Bloomberg, reporter Larry Celona wrote in the March 14, 2002 New York Post, that a rape that had been committed in the 50th Precinct
"was logged as a lesser crime—thus giving a rare look into what some beat cops say is a statistical sleight of hand used by their commanders.
"According to many patrol officers, commanders sometimes reclassify major crimes like murder, assault, robbery and rape as lesser offenses to make it appear they are winning the war on crime....
"… the March 8 rape of a woman at a Bailey Avenue hotel was recorded as an 'inconclusive' incident. Only on Tuesday, after The Post started asking questions, was the crime properly classified as rape."
(This redefining of a rape as an "inconclusive incident" is a speciality of the Philadelphia PD which for years, according to the FBI, has conquered crime through the simple expedient of finding victim complaints "unfounded." The Philadelphia PD also pioneered the method of disappearing burglaries through redefining them as the non-crime of "lost/stolen property." According to a 1998 Philadelphia Inquirer report, "Among police, the practice is called 'going down with crime.'")
On June 30, 2003, in "Crime Statistics Doubts Adding Up," Newsday's Leonard Levitt detailed the reality behind the "reduction in crime":
- The punishment-by-transfer of an officer in The Bronx (again from the 50th Precinct!) who refused to downgrade a felony to a misdemeanor;
- A former police official having to intercede on a victim's behalf, to get detectives who had refused to help the victim to take down a crime report;
- A Brooklyn precinct commander discouraging robbery victims from reporting crimes, by refusing to permit the uniformed officer at the scene from taking down a report;
- A multiple-officer tag team talking victims out of filing crime reports;
- Reusing the complaint number of a disappeared crime for a new case, in order to eliminate the first crime's paper trail;
- Keeping two sets of books for a precinct's crime statistics.
More recently, in March 22, Levitt and Rocco Parascandola reported on the case of former 50th Precinct commander Thomas DiRusso. From 2000-2003, when Deputy Inspector DiRusso was on the job, crime allegedly fell 26%, but in the first 10 weeks after he left the precinct in January, 2004, to head up Brooklyn South Narcotics, crime in the "5-0" allegedly increased by 11.2%.
Deputy Inspector DiRusso was reportedly aggressive at reducing crime reports. Officers told Levitt and Parascandola, that, when restaurant deliverymen were robbed and sought help from the precinct, DiRusso ran them off, threatening to ticket them for riding their bicycles on the sidewalk. His officers were also in the habit of refusing to take down crime reports from victims.
Rather than investigate DiRusso, the NYPD has stood by their man.
The reality of "disappeared" crime contradicts the managed impression that a revolution in police methods has saved New York over the past ten or so. The revolution has credited to two new policies: "broken windows" policing and "COMPSTAT" (computer statistics).
Broken windows theory, developed by George Kelling, Catherine M. Coles, and James Q. Wilson, argues that a crackdown on petty, "quality of life" crime (public urination, public drinking, fare beating, etc.) will lead to a reduction in major crime. "Broken windows" was offered as an alternative to the socialist propaganda model of "community policing," in which police were supposed to become one with those whom they were to police, becoming live-in social workers who just happened to carry guns.
COMPSTAT (computer statistics—the brainchild of late NYPD detective, crime-guru, and TV producer, Jack Maple), compiles statistics on concentrations of crime by place, day, and time of day. Increased deployments of officers can then rout the malefactors.
Militating against such an anti-crime offensive, are minority leaders and counter-police, who cry "Racism!" at the drop of a pair of handcuffs.
COMPSTAT is a "GIGO" ("garbage in, garbage out") proposition. But, as police have for years been handcuffed by race-baiters, COMPSTAT has routinely been compromised by false data and lack of political will.
But police commanders are not only handcuffed in implementing COMPSTAT by the pro-crime lobby. They are shot in the back by their own chiefs.
COMPSTAT was initially implemented under NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, who had previously run New York's independent Transit PD (which he then merged into the NYPD), the Boston PD. Since October, 2002, Bratton has run the Los Angeles PD. Bratton instituted COMPSTAT meetings at police headquarters. These became a form of public theater in which he routinely humiliated precinct commanders who had failed to produce the desired "numbers." "Bad" (read: honest) numbers were career suicide.
Commanders quickly learned what Bratton wanted. And they communicated that knowledge through the ranks.
William Bratton left the NYPD in January 1996, but his model stayed. He and his associates have since spread it across the country. (Bratton's number two man, John Timoney, was Philadelphia's police commissioner from 1998-2001.) The result is a police and street culture, in which no one—save perhaps for livery drivers and restaurant deliverymen in poor neighborhoods—has any idea what the true face of crime looks like. But COMPSTAT/broken windows makes for great public relations.
Or at least it did, until the police unions stopped playing ball. In late March, as part of their tactic of negotiating a new labor contract through the media, the New York Police Department's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA) and the Sergeants' Benevolent Association (SBA) attacked the NYPD brass, charging that the city's miraculously low crime rate has been achieved through—fraudulent arrest statistics.
On March 23, PBA president Patrick J. Lynch maintained:
"We've reached a point where some local N.Y.P.D. commanders are forced to falsify stats in order to maintain the appearance of a continued reduction in crime … "Some precinct commanders are cooking the books to make themselves look good. We're hearing from our members across the city that these things are happening."
SBA president Ed Mullins had made the same charges on March 3 against Capt. Sheldon Howard, the commander of Police Service Area 9, and on the 23rd, in a joint press release and press conference with the PBA, "calling upon police commissioner Ray Kelly to conduct a comprehensive citywide audit of crime and to develop procedures that will prevent police managers from downgrading or ignoring reported crimes."
The unions charged the NYPD with fudging crime reporting citywide. But they emphasized fraud in Manhattan's 10th Precinct, The Bronx' 50th Precinct, and Police Service Area 10, which serves housing projects in six Queens precincts. The NYPD admitted only to misreporting in the 10th Precinct, dismissing the other charges out of hand. (Last June, the brass admitted that 203 felonies had been improperly downgraded to misdemeanors in the 10th Precinct during 2002.)
Hopefully more police unions will take the initiative to counter the PR job done across the country by the likes of William Bratton and his media mouthpieces.
Unlike the usual negotiating hype, and in spite of the union bosses being in the delicate position of saying that their members haven't been doing the great job for which they had long taken credit, these charges have the virtue of being true.
Nicholas Stix [email him] lives in New York City, which he views from the perspective of its public transport system, experienced in his career as an educator. His weekly column appears at Men's News Daily and many other Web sites. He has also written for Middle American News, the New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Chronicles, Ideas on Liberty and the Weekly Standard. He maintains two blogs: A Different Drummer and Nicholas Stix, Uncensored.