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COMPSTAT and Crime Reduction
January 11, 2007
Response to January 9, 2007 LAVOICE.ORG Article, "Is LAPD Fudging Our Crime Stats?"
From: The LAPD's Officer in Charge of the COMPSTAT Unit, Detective III Jeff Godown
LAPD's current Chief of Police, William J. Bratton, was hired by the City of Los Angeles in 2002 with a stated goal of reducing crime. Chief Bratton brought with him an innovative system of addressing crime based on the use of technology coupled with police management accountability called Computer Statistics or COMPSTAT. He also brought with him a leadership style, which can be summed up in his often repeated desire to bring "transparency" to the LAPD organization in order to increase its credibility and capability to work in partnership with the communities it serves.
In past media articles and most recently on the Internet site LAVOICE.ORG, the crime reduction, which has occurred for each of the past five years as a result of COMPSTAT and the work of the men and women of the LAPD, has been called into question. The author and his sources bring up this issue by asking if the LAPD is "fudging" on its reported downtrend in crime statistics or "cooking the books", so to speak, leading to a distortion of the crime picture and a false sense of security. Manipulating crime statistics to reflect more favorably on the crime rate is on its face inappropriate, ethically wrong, and if allowed to be practiced, will erode the credibility of the Department.
The integrity of the processes being used to track and report on crime and arrests is critical to compiling the data used in the foundational step of the COMPSTAT process, which is to obtain "Accurate and Timely Intelligence." This data is ultimately used by LAPD command and staff officers in creating crime reduction strategies, allocating resources and deploying personnel. The operative word in this process is accuracy and follows the garbage-in garbage-out principle. In order to create the best crime reduction strategies, those strategies must be based on an accurate crime picture.
As the Officer in Charge of the COMPSTAT Unit, I have had many discussions with Chief Bratton and the opportunity to talk with every commanding officer on the LAPD regarding the importance of accurately documenting and correctly reporting crime in the city. Each command follows standardized crime investigation and reporting procedures. From attending every COMPSTAT meeting and, after first analyzing the statistics reviewed for patrol operations throughout the city, I can assure you that no captain, commander, or chief level staff officer is "cooking the books" to reduce crime in his area to make themselves look good. Far from the portrayal given of New York Police Department commanders that, "They are, by nature, ambitious people who lust for promotions, and rising crime rates won't help anybody's career.", I know of no LAPD command or staff officer who would "risk" their career by encouraging, or participating in, the "fudging" of crime statistics. It is interesting to note that all the articles concerning these issues have been generated on departments from back east. However, I can only address the LAPD and my role in the COMPSTAT process here in Los Angeles.
Consider the fact that the LAPD is operating under the scrutiny of a Federal Consent Decree with its capability to monitor and audit any aspect of Department operations at any place and time. On many occasions, my staff in the COMPSTAT Unit has audited crime and arrest reports for accuracy and the proper use of crime class and modus operandi codes to ensure the oversight of statistical reporting procedures. Each Area command is also responsible for auditing its operations to monitor compliance with mandatory procedural requirements. These commands must respond to the oversight of their respective Bureau commands, which in turn require Bureau audits as a check and balance on all systems. At the highest level, the Chief of Police has directed integrity audits to be performed by Professional Standards Bureau. It is well known by line officers that their next call for service could very well be such a performance audit. Any officer, who fails to complete a required report from an internal integrity audit, or from any reporting person for that matter, will be disciplined by the Department. Line officers conducting preliminary investigations will not risk involvement in the disciplinary process by intentionally refusing to complete required crime reports for the sake of "year-ending crime totals".
Today's policing environment necessarily involves the processing of vast amounts of information. The COMPSTAT process is a framework for researching, analyzing and sharing statistical crime, arrest and risk management data with all levels of the organization. In addition, external sharing of data exists in cooperation with outside law enforcement entities. In January of 2005, the COMPSTAT Unit implemented a change in the reporting of Aggravated Assault crimes involving domestic violence to the FBI's Uniformed Crime Reporting (UCR) program. Aggravated Assault is one of seven "index" crimes routinely reported for inclusion in the UCR. This change brought the LAPD's Aggravated Assault crime reporting in line with the crime definitions mandated by the program. Consultants from the FBI and the California Department of Justice concurred with the change as necessary for the accuracy of LAPD's crime statistics. This change was undertaken to correct a UCR reporting error and not to induce a "fudge factor" or creative "spreadsheet shuffle" to make it appear that the crime of domestic violence had been reduced, as some Department detractors have inferred. This reporting change was transparently made and existing statistical documents used in the COMPSTAT process were appropriately annotated.
The anecdotal evidence of LAPD personnel attempting to artificially impact the accurate reporting of crime, as may be occurring in other jurisdictions, does not wash. Does the Department follow every officer around to make sure they take every required report? Of course the answer is no. It is also true that, at times, reports that should be completed are not, but not for the aforementioned reasons of trying to artificially reduce the overall crime rate. The men and women of the LAPD are trained to investigate, document and accurately report on the incidence of crime when completing their duties and responsibilities, be they patrol officers, detectives, supervisors, command personnel or the dedicated crime analysts who work behind the scenes. They do so, admirably, and are responsible for the hard work that has produced the crime reduction successes in conjunction with COMPSTAT, the Department's inspection and command accountability process implemented by Chief Bratton to guide the Department in reducing and preventing criminal activities. The sworn and civilian personnel of the LAPD are too busy fighting crime and serving the people of Los Angeles' business and residential communities to, in your words, "Cook the Books."