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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Downgrading Crime in New York City: How the Police Control Crime Rates

     Crime statistics have always been unreliable indicators of crime rates because a substantial percentage of felonies are not reported to the police. This is particularly true in cases of spousal abuse, child molestation, and rape. Even criminal homicides are underreported. And of the crimes that do get reported to the authorities, not all of them become part of the official record. Crime statistics do, however, reveal trends, and for that reason they are important.

     Politicians and police administrators hate high crime rates because they are afraid the public will blame increases in crime on them. Because mayors and police chiefs take credit for low crime rates, they are held responsible when the numbers go the other direction. This is a problem politicians and police administrators have brought upon themselves. If politicians were honest (an odd thought), they would inform the public that the police have little control over the rate of crime in their jurisdictions. That's because law enforcement is not about preventing crime as much as reacting to it after the fact. The level of crime in a particular city has little bearing on the quality of that municipality's law enforcement services. While there are many ways to judge a police department, the local crime rate is not one of them.

     Because politicians and police administrators have misled the public into believing they are protecting us from criminals, they try to control crime statistics the only way they can, by manipulating the reporting process. This kind of bureaucratic skullduggery has been going on forever.

     In New York City during police commissioner Raymond Kelly's tenure, he has taken credit for the city's declining crime rates. But in 2011, New York's crime statistics revealed a slight increase over 2010, and so far in 2012, this trend has continued. So it's not surprising that when researchers with The New York Times reviewed 100 police reports submitted over the past four months, they found that the police were falsely downgrading felony offenses to misdemeanor crimes (that are not counted) to manipulate crime stats and mislead the public.

     In an article published on September 16, 2012, The New York Times published examples of several cases that feature obvious felonies reported by the police as misdemeanors. (A friend of mine who worked 20 years as a patrolman in New York City, has said the first thing you learn as a NYC cop is that nothing is on the level.) What follows are examples of how the NYC police control crime statistics by mischaracterizing felonies as misdemeanors.

     In 2010 a 17-year-old gunman fired several shots into a group of young men on the street in the Bronx. Nearby, two teenage girls were hit by the shooter's stray bullets. Because their injuries were minor, police officers, in their reports, didn't mention that two girls had been shot in the shooting spree.

     In Brooklyn, the police characterized an attempted rape as "forcible touching," a misdemeanor. When a prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney's office learned of the facts of this case, he charged the subject with attempted rape, a felony. After a man in a domestic violence case choked his wife to the point of unconsciousness, the police wrote up the crime as a misdemeanor offense even though the attack clearly fell within the legal guidelines of a felonious assault.

     Numerous New York City police officers admitted to the reporters reviewing these cases that they are encouraged, whenever possible, to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors in order to keep the city's crime rates low, and the politicians happy. Sometimes police supervisors will actually show up at a crime scene to make sure officers are following this program of crime statistics manipulation. Sergeants and lieutenants have been known to modify police reports to achieve this result.

     Crime rates fluctuate but what never changes is the fact that in law enforcement, nothing is on the level. My ex-cop friend was right.  

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