NYPD, Stop-and-Frisk, and a Rock Star Police Chief


I've written a couple columns recently about NYPD's broken windows crime policy, which along with the statistics-driven CompStat reporting system has created some twisted incentives. The two policies seem to be driving NYPD's patrol officers to harass New Yorkers for non-crimes through an aggressive stop-and-frisk policy, while at the same time encouraging the under-reporting of actual crimes.

The Village Voice has been publishing and reporting on a series of audio recordings taken by a NYPD officer that seem to confirm both policies. Earlier this month, the Voice published an alarming interview with NYPD Detective Harold Hernandez, who says pressure the pressure to reclassify sexual assaults as misdemeanors left a rapist free to commit more assaults.

Responding to the ongoing Voice series "NYPD Tapes," Hernandez reveals publicly for the first time that the downgrading of crimes to manipulate statistics allowed a man to commit six sexual assaults in a Washington Heights neighborhood in 2002 before he was finally caught after his seventh attack.

The initial six crimes, committed over a two-month period, went unnoticed by 33rd Precinct detectives, Hernandez says, because patrol supervisors had improperly labeled most of them as misdemeanors. It was only through a lucky break—an alert neighbor spotted the suspect pushing his seventh victim into her apartment—that the rapist, Daryl Thomas, was finally captured.

After his arrest, Hernandez persuaded Thomas to detail his earlier crimes. The detective then combed through stacks of crime complaint reports to identify the pattern of violence.

Hernandez learned that most of the victims' complaints in the prior assaults had been classified as criminal trespassing, so the incidents never reached the detective squad and, in turn, were never declared a pattern, which would have triggered an intense campaign to capture the perpetrator.

In today's Voice, civil libertarian Nat Hentoff slags NYPD Chief Ray Kelly, pointing to new lawsuits estimating that more than 90 percent of the people harassed in stop-and-frisk operations are never fined or arrested. (Many of those arrested are also never charged.) Hentoff notes that Kelly is fawned over in the press as a "rock star" chief who "radiates power" (and likely running for mayor). Hentoff points to a New Yorker profile of Kelly which asks, "The long-serving NYPD Commissioner is autocratic, dismissive of civil liberties concerns—and effective. Is that a reasonable trade?"

Given mounting evidence that at least part of New York's perpetually declining crime stats may be due to underreporting, it's probably time to start asking questions about the "effective" part, too.