NYPD and Compstat

In response, Maple in early 1993 required each of New York City’s 76 precincts to compile crime statistics and map crime locations daily, then fax the information to headquarters. NYPD’s technology department told Maple it would take 6-12 months to computerize the process. But Maple and Bratton were in a hurry. “We were losing six people a day being murdered in the city at that time, another 15 or 20 being shot,” Bratton says. “Lives were being lost.” With money from the Police Foundation, funded by private donors to support the department, Maple and his team bought a Hewlett-Packard 360 computer.  “Jack [Maple] and his people quickly wired that up and began the Compstat revolution,” says Bratton.

William Bratton: video.

As Maple introduced technological change, Bratton turned to the department’s management. He devolved unprecedented authority to the city’s 76 precinct commanders—each of whom oversaw about 200-400 police officers serving some 100,000 residents. Bratton gave the commanders flexibility to respond to area crime on an individual basis and as they saw fit. [11]

By April 1994, Maple had put in place a system of computerized, up-to-date crime statistics that provided commanders with a clear picture of day-to-day crime patterns. At the same time, Bratton, Maple, and Chief of Patrol Louis Anemone convened twice-weekly meetings for top commanders to review crime statistics with their precinct colleagues in an effort to determine response patterns. Compstat, Bratton recalls, “allowed for the creation of a system of accountability.”

Maps were important from early on; the new data allowed commanders to visualize where crime was occurring and, crucially, whether arrest patterns matched crime patterns. A map projected at the front of the room used dots to indicate crime incidents—and precinct commanders were held accountable for “putting cops on the dots,” says Bratton. The meetings were designed so that NYPD leaders could ask, in effect, “’What are you doing about the crime problem that we are identifying?’” Bratton says. “’We now know where [crime] is happening, who’s doing it… What are you doing about it?’” In addition to holding commanders accountable, the process also allowed departmental units to share intelligence on successful tactics.

Available via maps.nyc.gov
An image of an interactive map showing crime incidents in Morningside Heights and Harlem during February 2014

The process could be adversarial. Bratton recalls one meeting in which a narcotics squad was touting the number of arrests it had made. Using the Compstat maps, however, Maple demonstrated that arrests were not occurring where most of the crime took place. “’Your arrests should be where the problems are,’” Bratton recalls Maple saying.

Compstat changed the way data was collected, how resources were deployed and how commanders were held accountable. As Maple later summarized, its key components were “accurate and timely intelligence combined with effective tactics, rapid deployment, relentless follow-up and assessment, and decentralized accountability.” [12] By the end of 1994, index crime in New York City had declined by 12 percent compared to 1993, exceeding Bratton’s promise of 10 percent (nationwide, it dropped a scant 1.1 percent). [13] From 1993 to 1999, New York City crime dropped 50 percent. [14]

A similar shift in mentality—from responding to problems to preventing them—would soon take hold at other city agencies. Among them was Parks and Recreation, which in March 1997 held its first Compstat-style meeting. The department dubbed its version ParkStat. Managers were encouraged to describe in detail developments in each district, and to brainstorm collective solutions. ParkStat, wrote expert Dennis Smith, “builds on the earlier development of a systematic parks conditions inspection and rating system that divides the Parks Department facilities into ratable sites that receive pass/fail marks after each inspection.” [15]

In addition, the department implemented weekly performance reviews in order to establish a direct connection between headquarters and park managers.  By putting statistics and direct communication at the forefront of park management, ParkStat was able to double the number of sites passing inspection. [16] By 2002, ParkStat had expanded to monitor such indicators as crime, vehicle maintenance, personnel, resource allocation and enforcement.

Before long, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) would also take a close look at Compstat.

[11] Buntin, “Assertive Policing, Plummeting Crime,” p.10.

[12] Dennis C. Smith and William J. Bratton, “Performance Management in New York City: Compstat and the Revolution in Police Management,” in Dall Forsyth (ed.), Quicker, Better, Cheaper? Managing Performance in American Government , New York: Rockefeller Institute Press, October 2001. p. 477.

[13] John Buntin, “Assertive Policing, Plummeting Crime: The NYPD Takes on Crime in New York City,” Harvard Kennedy School of Government, August 9, 1999, p. 22

[14] Dennis C. Smith and William J. Bratton, “Performance Management in New York City: Compstat and the Revolution in Police Management,” in Dall Forsyth (ed.), Quicker, Better, Cheaper? Managing Performance in American Government , New York: Rockefeller Institute Press, October 2001. p. 455. Note that this decline started under the Dinkins administration.

[15] Dennis C. Smith, “What Can Public Managers Learn from Police Reform in New York?: COMPSTAT and the Promise of Performance Management,” New York University Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Paper prepared for presentation at the 19 th Annual Research Conference of the Association of Public Policy and Management, New York, NY. November 1997. pp. 5-6.

[16] Ibid, p.6.