In 2008, Steven Mauriello, commander of the 81st precinct in Brooklyn, New York, ordered his officers to be far more aggressive – to arrest anyone doing anything even slightly out of line.
“Everybody goes,” he said. “I don’t care. Yoke ‘em. Put ‘em through the system. They got bandannas on? Arrest ‘em. They’re underage? Fuck it. You’re on a foot post? Fuck it. Take the first guy you got and lock ‘em all up. Bring ‘em in.” A lieutenant later added, “they don’t own the block. We own the block. They might live there, but we own the block. We own the streets here.”
Those orders represent a taste of over 1,000 hours of day-to-day life in the NYPD secretly recorded by Adrian Schoolcraft, an unassuming patrolman who became disgusted with the unrelenting pressure he faced to “make his numbers,” regardless of whether he actually witnessed any wrongdoing.
While a federal judge this week declared “stop-and-frisk”—one aspect of the NYPD’s hyper-aggressive approach to policing—unconstitutional, it only scratches the surface of the institutional problems Schoolcraft chronicled. They flow largely from the NYPD’s “corporate approach” to policing, a singular obsession with crime statistics that compels officers to harass New Yorkers for petty offenses while turning their backs on serious offenses that might inflate the numbers. (In some cases patrol bosses even ordered cops to arrest people for doing nothing, with the understanding that they’d be sprung later.) Cops who don’t get with the program end up with targets on their backs.
Rayman appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour this week. A lightly edited transcript of the discussion follows.
Joshua Holland: First, what is CompStat?
Graham Rayman: CompStat is a statistics-driven crime strategy. Basically, statistics are kept looking for hotspots of crime and then resources, officers, are devoted to dealing with those problems. For example, if you have a rash of robberies in a given area in a precinct, you send cops out to focus on those robberies. It was started around 1994 under then-commissioner William Bratton and was credited with the sharp crime decline that took place in New York City over the past 20 years.
As time went on, though, it also became a vehicle for promotion among precinct commanders. If you showed good numbers, good CompStat numbers, then you were more likely to get promoted. The other element of CompStat is that precinct commanders were called into headquarters to explain issues in their precinct. Sometimes those meetings would get very intense. Careers either blossomed or failed in those meetings on a regular basis.
JH: Now, Bratton, I think, was always a big self-promoter. He took credit for using these statistics to bring down crime stats. The reality was that crime was certainly falling all over the country. There’s been a whole number of theories for exactly why that is. But that’s not the whole story.
In the book you note that Bratton said he wanted to make the NYPD act like a for-profit corporation, with the profit being crime reduction. Can you give us a sense of how this impacted the department’s culture?
GR: Well, it change the culture a great deal. First of all, one of the most important things that it did was that it took away discretion. If it’s all about the numbers, then you have to show good numbers. That means more summonses, more stop-and-frisks, and lower major crimes. The officers who used to, say, give warnings, or commanders who used to tolerate officers who used their judgment and their discretion more, became less valued in the model.