Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Maurading, Disorderly Crowds and the Disconnect with Compstat

Buz watched and read with interest how the many reports of ordinary common folks getting smacked upside the head seemed to conflict with the stats showing crime in the city is down dramatically (except murders and larcenies, the latter up a lot).

Trouble is, the commissioner talked about the drop in crime and got pre-emptily defensive, apparently because he had previously heard criticism of "fuzzy math". And, in fact, he and the stats are widely disbelieved by many people in the city who don't feel safe.

There are lots of reasons for this, not to mention the fact that the Baltimore Police have a real PR problem, which Mr. Guglielmi cannot solve. Police are seen by many citizens as aggressive (unnecessarily), profane, arbitrary, and insensitive, not to mention bureaucratic. Also, Buz has heard from many citizens the downside of the Compstat process: police don't wanna take the report, and citizens don't bother reporting.

But the overriding factor I think, is this: there are two things that police do (sometimes forgotten by the police Compstat hysteria and the mania for numbers, by the press, often by th citizens themselves): they fight crime, and they maintain order. Crime fighting is measured by the reported crimes sent to the FBI under Uniform Crime Reporting guidelines, specifically so-called "Part I" crimes of murder, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, arson, and larceny. They represent a measurable crime rate, and are most discussed at Compstat. [Apparently, our top leaders are also entranced with drug calls, deploying officers where the most 911 calls for druggies-in-progress come in.]

However, order maintenance is not able to be clearly measured. Disorderly gangs of kids going around banking people for fun are hardly measured at all, in fact, are probably not even really reported unless someone is seriously injured. These incidents are probably rarely even worthy of police attention, and even if an arrest is made, it is for disorderly conduct or common assault, worthy of only disdain by the command staff, not a mention at Compstat, I'll betcha (23-1). Uniformed officers were once the backbone of the department, and many saw their jobs as nipping this kind of stuff in the bud. Baltimore once prided itself with a significant, compared to other cities, police presence on the street, and a quick and significant response to calls for service regarding maintaining order. But the uniformed patrol force (except in the last couple of weeks) has been regarded over the last few years, as Sam Zell might have put it, mere "overhead". Something you gotta do for appearances, you know: the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment "proved" patrol is "worthless". So, over the years, Baltimore consistently reduced its patrol posts, first on midnight shift, then on all shifts, because, well they were considered, um, BS. The real work was done by drug cops, ripping and running, taking down street dealers, and building cases against big offenders with guns and stuff. Calls for service in most districts were back up at the start of the shift, and nobody cared. The cops were burned out, late, and preferred not to write reports (boring stuff), when they could roll to the next gun call. Everyone was the enemy, if they got in the way of the stat. If you got enough stats, as a young "go-getter", you could get to go to the Violent Crime Impact Division and not have to wear that silly uniform again for a while, but you'd go to court when you could, and if lucky, you might get on a federal task force, and get a take-home car.

The citizens know some of this: when they call the police to report a crime, sometimes there is no followup, calls for service take forever, and there does not seem to be a significant police presence. Sometimes the police are borderline rude, and try to talk you out of making a report. Everyone you know has been victimized, and now people are worried about getting "jumped" in certain areas they thought were ok.

So, crime is down, but disorder is up and Compstat is askew with the public perception. Quality policing is not measured by Management by Objectives criteria. So, I feel for the commish: he's doing a good job in many ways, especially in keeping some crimes down or steady, but nobody seems to believe him.