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One of the most significant developments in the history of policing is the use of statistics to track crime patterns and to determine how to react to them. New York City’s CompStat program has served as a model not just for cities around the United States, but also globally. And it makes sense, right? The better we track crimes and the more data we have, the more effectively we can allocate resources to improve public safety.
Unfortunately, New York City (and everyone else) has found that it isn’t that simple. Jack Maple’s bold vision for a statistics-based police department has been plagued by inconsistent application and perverse incentives that prioritize numbers over public safety. The perpetual conflict between good policing and good CompStat numbers has mitigated the program’s positive effects and magnified its criticism on civil rights grounds.
CompStat reinforces our biggest problem with statistics in public life: the numbers we increasingly depend on don’t lie, but we don’t always know which truth they’re telling us.
*** ADDITIONAL READING ***
Jack Maple, “The Crime Fighter: Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business” (1999) https://www.amazon.com/Crime-Fighter-Putting-Guys-Business/dp/0385493630
“Compstat: Its Origins, Evolution, and Future in Law Enforcement Agencies,” US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs: https://bja.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh186/files/Publications/PERF-Compstat.pdf
George Kelling, “Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order And Reducing Crime In Our Communities” https://www.amazon.com/Fixing-Broken-Windows-Restoring-Communities/dp/0684837382
NYPD’s CompStat 2.0: https://compstat.nypdonline.org/2e5c3f4b-85c1-4635-83c6-22b27fe7c75c/view/89
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Hosted and Produced by Kevin Lieber
Research and Writing by Matthew Tabor
Editing by John Swan
Huge Thanks To Paula Lieber
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