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A Review of the CompStat Method

A Review of the Compstat Method Michael McMahon American Military University

A Review of the CompStat Method

Abstract Compstat is a method of crime reduction management developed and first implemented in New York City in the mid 1990s and focuses on the collection and analysis of crime data and the accountability of command staff. There are five elements of the Compstat method, accurate data, effective tactics, rapid deployment, decentralized decision making and dedicated follow up. These five elements are supposed to work together to bring about the best possible police service to the community. There have been critics of the Compstat method that claim that the method and accountability issues encourage the under reporting of crime data, that the Compstat method has minimal effect on crime control and point to the infamous weekly meetings held by the New York Police in which supervisors were grilled over the numbers that came from their districts as reasons that the Compstat method is not as successful as its proponents claim. In this essay I will look at elements of the Compstat method as well as how it can be implemented by a mid-size police department.

A Review of the CompStat Method

CompStat is an acronym for Computer Statistics or Computer Comparison Statistics and is best described as a goal oriented and information driven style of police management that places an emphasis on accountability of managers as well as a strategic goal (Geoghegan, 2006). This model was first created in New York City by the Transit Police in the mid 1990s and instituted by William Bratton in 1994 after assuming the role of police commissioner of the New York Police Department. By using a variety of survey groups and interviews, Bratton established seven goals that would be the objective of the NYPD as they embarked upon a mission of addressing crime control and community concerns. These seven objectives were removing guns from the streets, decreasing youth violence, eliminating drug dealers, addressing the cycle of domestic violence, reduce vehicle related crimes, retake public areas and the promotion of integrity and professionalism within the police department (McDonald, 2002). As shown by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau the accomplishment of many of these goals involve the enforcement of minor laws to create arrests that should help to head off and prevent more serious crimes (2003). An excellent example of this is the use of curfew arrests of minors. While it may seem a minor thing to arrest someone for, arresting a 16 year old gang member found hanging out in a park and bringing him into the police department may serve a number of goals. It may lead to a gun arrest if this thug is in possession of a firearm as protection against rival gangs. If he is dealing or a look out for drug dealers taking him off the street helps to eliminate or deter this crime. This child cannot be a victim or a perpetrator of violence if he is in police custody and in the station while removing gang members from the park allows the park to be reclaimed for the law abiding citizens from gang members that would harass them or make them

A Review of the CompStat Method

fearful of gang violence. While this is one example similar results could stem from aggressive enforcement of traffic laws, public intoxication statutes or vagrancy ordinances. Brattons implementation of CompStat also relied upon a large amount of supervisor accountability and involvement on a level that had not been seen before. Within the department an entirely new way of thinking and operating were required from supervisors in response to problems that had been identified within the command structure of the police department. There was a belief that the managers of the police department had been guilty of not demanding enough of their officers and as a result not enough was being accomplished by the department. Another problem within management that had been identified was that far too many supervisors had become complacent in their positions and were relying on outdated and inefficient ways of doing things instead of looking forward or outside the norm for new solutions to old problems. Finally it was recognized that too many district level commanders were not allowed the flexibility to develop crime control measures that fit their specific districts due to a centralized command structure that was making decisions for the entire department without the intimate knowledge of the districts that their commanders possessed (Weisburd, Mastrofski, Greenspan & Willis, 2004). An important element of New Yorks adoption of CompStat was the twice weekly meetings that involved the police commissioner, precinct commanders and other department managers. The purpose of these meetings was multi-dimensional. These meetings were an opportunity to review objectives and performance, share strategy ideas while also giving the commissioner a chance to confront district commanders over unfulfilled crime goals (Worcester Regional

A Review of the CompStat Method

Research Bureau, 2003). An additional if unstated outcome of these meetings was that these meetings gave commanders a chance to impress the commissioner and his managers with their districts results while also serving to motivate those whose results may be lacking (Geoghegan, 2006). In order to implement a CompStat program a police department must take into account the five principles that were established when the program was started. These five principles are specific objectives, relevant and accurate information, effective strategies, aggressive follow-up and the rapid deployment of officers to achieve the stated goals (McDonald, 2002). According to McDonald the setting of specific objectives is among the most important of the five principals and one upon which the success or failure of the entire program may hinge. At this stage of the CompStat program the chief of police along with top level managers establish a number of specific crime fighting goals to be achieved over a set period of time. These goals need to be crime fighting as opposed to administrative goals and need to be both measurable and attainable. A tendency that must be avoided is to set a numeric value that as the goal to be reached such as an increase in drug arrests by ten percent. McDonald explains that the problem with setting numeric values is that a set number may discourage district level supervisors or may result in officers focusing on the numeric goal as opposed to lasting crime reduction. Another concern of setting numeric values as goals is that once a division meets their numeric goal their efforts may diminish because they have met the goal. Using the example of drug arrests it would be more beneficial to set a goal of more arrests for sale or possession of cocaine as opposed to an increase in drug arrests by

A Review of the CompStat Method

ten percent. The former goal is one that is ongoing but can be measured using statistics such as numbers of arrests and grams of cocaine recovered (McDonald, 2002). Accurate and relevant information is another important principal of the CompStat method of crime reduction. In order for police managers to know how to combat crime, they first need to know when and where crimes are occurring. This can be accomplished by obtaining quality information about what kinds of crime are taking place in their area of responsibility as well as when these crimes are taking place (Dorriety, 2005). The gathering of this information can take place in a number of different ways. Citizen calls for service provide dispatch and supervisors with information regarding crime and where it is occurring. Reports for crimes such as burglaries can be used to recognize an area experiencing a spike in such crime. Street contacts with people such as prostitutes and the homeless can provide a wealth of information as they tend to be two groups on the street that see and hear about a great deal of criminal activity. One drawback with these as well as other criminal elements as sources of intelligence is that they may have their own motives for providing officers information and therefore such information should be confirmed by officers. Finally informal contacts with citizens can provide officers with information regarding crimes and criminal activity that they or their neighbors may be aware of but may lack a way to communicate this information to the department (Shane, 2004). Once this information is collected by the area command staff they can use it to both forecast trends in ongoing criminal activity as well as recognize surges in specific crimes in order to develop tactical plans to achieve their strategic goals (Geoghegan, 2006). Failure to properly

A Review of the CompStat Method

use this information in a timely fashion will leave department managers behind and playing a game of catch up between current criminal activity and where the areas policing efforts are centered. The next step in the CompStat process is for police supervisors to develop effective strategies for accomplishing the crime control goals that they have established (McDonald, 2002). According to Maple and Mitchell, one of the largest misconceptions with the accountability created by the implementation of the CompStat process was that district commanders faced backlash from their superiors if crime numbers went up. They explain that it was not a matter of crime numbers going up as much as it was commanders failure to explain why the numbers went up or worse, not having a plan of action to deal with the elevated numbers (1999). While gathering intelligence and having stated objectives are important to the CompStat process, failing to have a plan of how to use that intelligence to accomplish the objective means that there can be little hope to see the commanders goals achieved. In order for this process to work the tactics that a commander utilizes must be specific and fit the information that was developed from data sources while also being flexible to meet changing crime patterns or spikes. These plans must be more than answer citizen complaints or respond to calls in order to be effective. Such general tactics do not address specific problems unique to a district and can lead to criminal activity being displaced or moved (Dorriety, 2005). At the same time rigid and overly specific plans such as always assign four beat cars to Area 2 because there were more robberies in that area last month may also not work because it lacks the needed ability to change if suddenly Area 4 sees a rise in robberies while Area 2 has a decline. In the New York Police Department much

A Review of the CompStat Method

work for developing strategies was done at the regularly scheduled CompStat meetings. In this forum different area commanders could brainstorm to discover overlapping problems, coordinate their efforts, help each other generate plans to overcome their crime control problems and communicate face to face which facilitated cooperation (Worcester Regional Research Bureau, 2003). Ultimately though, the responsibility for creating strategies that fit the available intelligence and objectives will rest on the area commander and his staff creating another level of accountability in the CompStat process (Godown, 2009). Finally the area commander must involve the entire district to ensure that there is a clear understanding of what he expects from the top down to ensure that everyone in the rank structure knows how they fit into the plan and what they need to do to ensure the plan is a success. By involving the entire district the commander may also gain new insights or ideas from throughout the rank structure that can aid him in the CompStat process (McDonald, 2002). Once the commander of an area has created a plan of action it is necessary to rapidly deploy the needed personnel to carry out the plan. A great plan is just that, a great PLAN. Without getting down to allocating the needed resources and getting those resources to work it can never progress past that stage. The commander must recognize that while his plan must be enacted, the areas officers are still responsible for the day to day activities that make up officers jobs such as taking reports, handling accidents, responding to citizen complaints and going to court which means the commander must ensure that enough officers are available to handle those responsibilities when not attending to the proactive efforts of the crime control plan. One way that is suggested to accomplish this is for two thirds of officers assigned to be

A Review of the CompStat Method

primarily responsible for answering calls while the other third is reserved for proactive patrolling activities. This kind of model provides adequate officers for citizen calls, increases arrests and ensures that the commander knows who is accountable for the proactive goals that have been set (Shane, 2004). By rapidly deploying assets and officers it allows for the areas police to act quickly on intelligence that is perishable and criminals that move quickly. The flexibility that should be built into a commanders plan is really seen in this stage of the process. A sudden flare up of gang related violence in a specific area may force the command staff to shift officers away from another problem in a matter of hours if needed (Godown, 2009). This was the concept behind the Chicago Police Departments Mobile Strike Force as developed under Jody Weis. While their mandate was strictly as an anti-gang unit, they were not assigned to any specific district or area and could be utilized throughout the city in response to gang activity. It allowed the department to saturate an area with officers allocated just to gang suppression without tapping into regular patrol resources and allowing them to maintain their normal police activities. Rapidly deploying the plan is also important because the sooner officers on the street are aggressively patrolling in support of these goals the sooner the area commander can report results to the chief (Shane, 2004). The final element of the CompStat process is described specifically as relentless follow up and assessment (McDonald, 2002). This means that the creators of the plan must honestly look at the objectives and the plan and decide if the plan is working to achieve the objectives (Godown, 2009). As explained by McDonald, while this kind of feedback loop and evaluation process is not normally done in police work it becomes too easy to stray from the goals if no one is expected to regularly report what kind of

A Review of the CompStat Method

progress has been made (2002). The follow up and assessment part of the process goes hand in hand with regular CompStat meetings for a number of reasons. First, the reporting to superiors with hard evidence of success or failure will hold area commanders accountable to the objectives they have established. Secondly it breaks down all the statistics, all the intelligence and all the planning into a few very simple questions. Is the plan working? Why not? What needs to be changed if anything? (Godown, 2009). Follow up does not mean just looking at hard numbers either. Commanders can use a variety of tools to evaluate the success of their plan including reviewing reports, talking to patrol officers in the district and getting out of the office and seeing conditions on the street for themselves (Shane, 2004). By doing this the commander can continue to be well informed regarding the CompStat process as it is being practiced in the area that he is responsible for. The CompStat process has been shown to yield positive results and has been adopted by many major cities other than New York including Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and Indianapolis, Indiana (McDonald, 2002). While the process can be viewed strictly as a crime control method it can also be seen as a way to develop strong leaders that can make an idea a reality and be driving factors in helping an agency accomplish a common goal (DiLorenzi, Shane & Amendola, 2006). In proposing such a program to the chief of a 150 man department there would be little to no reason not to implement such a program. Structuring this program would not mean any radical revamping of the departments management structure however; it would increase the amount of accountability that supervisors would be held to. Data collection would be facilitated through computer programming that could collect data

A Review of the CompStat Method

and map different crime activity that would then be available to management. Overall authority for the process would lie with the assistant chief of police and an assistant responsible for data collection and dissemination. Operationally each of the three shifts and the gang unit would be active participants in the process with the commander of each shift and the gang unit responsible for their shift and its results. Feedback and assessment would involve a meeting once a month regarding the progress of the objectives and any changes that would be forthcoming. In order to allocate adequate resources to this one fourth of the officers on duty in a given night would be primarily responsible for proactive patrol activity furthering the crime control objectives of that shift. In order to promote accountability from the first line supervisors, sergeants would rotate each month being responsible for the officers assigned primarily to the CompStat goals and also be responsible for attending that months meeting. Data would be disseminated weekly to each shift which would allow the supervisors on each shift the ability to alter their planning as needed. Such a plan would require no restructuring and no additional manpower with the exception of someone with the computer skills to manage the data network and dissemination of intelligence. Such a plan would positively contribute to the department in that it would provide a focused effort on each shift towards crime control and improvement of quality of life for the community. While the amount of accountability on sergeants and shift commanders may seem overwhelming at first, involving officers in the program and its objectives would hopefully motivate them to aggressively pursue the objectives and make the program a success.

A Review of the CompStat Method

References DiLorenzi, D. Shane, J &Amendola, K. (2006, Sep). The compstat process: managing performance on the pathway to leadership. The Police Chief. 73 (9). Dorriety, John. (2005, Jun). Compstat for smaller departments. Law and Order. 53 (6). Retrieved from: http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/pqdweb?did=862693651&sid=1&Fmt=3&cli entId=62546&RQT=309&VName=PQD Geoghegan, Susan. (2002006, Apr). Compstat revolutionizes contemporary policing. Law and Order. 54 (4). Retrieved from: http://www.hendonpub.com/resources/articlearchive/results.aspx?mag=Law+and+Order &author=Susan+Geoghegan&month=April&year=2006&perpage=5 Godown, Jeff. (2009, Aug). The compstat process: four principals for managing crime reduction. The Police Chief. LXXVI (8). Maple, Jack & Mitchell, Chris (1999). The Crime Fighter: Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business. New York: Doubleday. McDonald, Phyllis P. (2002). Managing Police Operations. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth. Shane, Jon. (2004, Apr). The compstat process. The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. 73 (4). Retrieved from: http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcementbulletin/2004-pdfs/april04leb.pdf

A Review of the CompStat Method

Worcester Regional Research Bureau. (2003). Compstat and citistat: should Worcester adopt these management techniques? Worcester, MA: Worcester Regional Research Bureau. Weisburd, D., Mastrofski,S., Greenspan, R., & Willis, J., (2004). The growth of compstat in American policing. Washington D.C.: The Police Foundation.