Academic journal article Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies

Don't Trust the Police: Stop Question Frisk, Compstat, and the High Cost of Statistical Over-Reliance in the Nypd

Academic journal article Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies

Don't Trust the Police: Stop Question Frisk, Compstat, and the High Cost of Statistical Over-Reliance in the Nypd

Article excerpt

Using data collected by the New York City Police Department, this research applies social disorganization theory and conflict theory to the NYPD "stop question frisk" practice. This paper discusses the rise of "stop question frisk" along with the implementation of CompStat and explores whether the rate at which the police employ "stop question frisk" within a precinct is based solely upon a precinct's crime rate, or whether the stops rate is influenced by factors such as race or poverty. This research draws three conclusions. First, the crime rate in a given precinct is the strongest predictor of the rate of stops within it. Second, the interaction between the percentage of precinct population that is Black and the percentage below the poverty line is a statistically significant predictor of the rate of stops. Third, the use of "stop question frisk" as a police practice may help explain the lower rates of police approval among Black New Yorkers. Consequences for police legitimacy are discussed.

Once the poster child for rampant crime and urban decay, New York City is now the "safest big city in America" with the same rate of violent crime as Sunnyvale, California.49 While the precise cause of this dramatic decline in violent crime remains a topic of scholarly debate, within popular media and among police departments, much of the credit has gone to reforms carried out by former Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles Chief of Police, William Bratton (Fagan & MacDonald, 2012, p. 14; Kelling & Sousa, 2001; Eck & Maguire, 2000). Bratton's major contributions to the NYPD were the wide-scale adoption of the practice of "stop question frisk" ("SQF") guided by the "Broken Windows" philosophy of crime prevention (Kelling & Bratton, 1998; Wilson & Kelling, 1982) and the implementation of CompStat, short for "COMPuter STATistics," a management system that uses statistics to inform police decision-making (Bratton & Knobler, 1998; Skolnick & Caplovitz, 2001).

This article shall examine how the practice of SQF was implemented in New York City along with CompStat, discuss the impact of these implementations, and measure how a practice that is, on its face, race-neutral may have become race-based in practice.

What is CompStat?

CompStat is the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) "strategic control system," designed "to gather and disseminate" crime statistics, and provide managers with the ability to oversee longitudinal efforts to deal with crime (Weisburd, Mastrofski, Greenspan, & Willis, 2003, p. 426). However, CompStat has also become "shorthand" for a broader range of police reform efforts within the NYPD, including, most notably, the high profile "pop quizzes"50 called "Crime-Control Strategy Meetings." During these meetings, "crime statistics and other information about a precinct and its problems are projected onto overhead screens," (Weisburd, Mastrofski, Greenspan, & Willis, 2004, p. 3), and precinct commanders are "quizzed" on "details of individual crime problems, including where and when crime occurred, and the age, race, and sex of any suspects" rather than the how or why they chose particular crime control strategies (Willis, Mastrofski, & Weisburd, 2007, p. 165). This focus on facts and figures has led organizational theorists to conclude that the architecture of CompStat's oversight system "prioritizes generalists who specialize in territory rather than function," resulting in "more police operations being geographically based" (Willis et al., 2007, p. 154).

Implementing CompStat in New York

In the 1990s, the NYPD implemented CompStat along with community policing strategies inspired by Broken Windows Theory (Fagan & Davies, 2000). Traditionally, community policing was characterized by literally putting police back in a community (Genelin, 1998) and fostering daily relationships between the police and community members (Skolnik, 1999). Two of the chief goals of community policing are restoring trust between police and community and gathering placespecific information such as which types of crimes are being committed most often in each community and who is committing them (Gramckow, 1997). …

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