Patrol Tactics: What Works Best? - Patrol -

Patrol Tactics: What Works Best?

Random patrols, community-oriented policing or the CompStat model?



Dave Grossi | From the September 2008 Issue Sunday, August 31, 2008

Like it or not, police work is a results-oriented profession. I once heard a veteran officer comment that police work is the only profession where you don’t have to “produce to get a pay check.” During a PBA clam bake, where the beer was flowing freely, this guy was contrasting cops to piece workers who get paid based on how many “widgets” they make per hour or day, insurance sales people who have to sell a certain number of policies to generate income commissions, and lawyers and doctors who must bill for so many hours or see X number of patients to earn a living. “I get paid just as much as the next cop, and I don’t write any tickets or make any unnecessary arrests—I just take the calls they give me. I do as little as possible, and I make just as much as the cop who writes 70 movers a month or makes five collars a week. Plus, I don’t have to worry about getting sued.”

In a way, he was right. Surprisingly, he made it to retirement. Not surprisingly, he passed away after six years of luxurious pension living from cirrhosis of the liver.

Ultimately, departments are judged by how well they control crime in their respective communities. No one can argue that the NYPD under Commissioner William Bratton transformed the city. It wasn’t that many years ago that New York City was known more for subway muggings, street-corner purse snatchings and panhandlers than for evenings on Broadway, late night cappuccinos in Little Italy and carriage rides through Central Park.

CompStat: High-Tech Pin Mapping
Indeed, the “city that never sleeps” can now pride itself as the “safest big city in America.” How did they improve the safety of their city? CompStat—the concept of targeting police resources to fight crime strategically—really revolutionized police patrol functions. CompStat began under the Rudy Giuliani administration and was overseen by Commissioner Bratton and Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple.

For officers who’ve heard the term but don’t know its meaning, CompStat is not a computer system or a software package. In fact, no one is even sure if the term is short for Computer Statistics, Comparative Statistics or Computer Comparison Statistics. The four cops who developed the program in 1994 needed an eight-character term to save their conceptual crime-fighting program on their computer, came up with the name on the fly, and it stuck.

In very simple terms, CompStat is high-tech pin mapping. Each week, all 76 precincts compile crime information (victim info, suspect profiles, time and location of the occurrence, and other crime-specific details) and forward it to the CompStat unit where it’s loaded into a citywide database. The data are analyzed, and a weekly report is generated. Meetings are then held twice weekly with officers from all units to review the info and discuss ways to combat crime in specific areas.

Two very interesting twists were also added to the CompStat concept that allow it to work so successfully. First, it doesn’t just focus on the seven major crimes (e.g., robbery, rape, murder, etc.) that are reported to the FBI via the Uniform Crime Reporting Index. It includes pertinent information on minor arrests (e.g., gun possession, prostitution, etc.) and summons activity for those quality of life offenses, such as public drinking, public urination, panhandling, loud radios and disorderly conduct. Officers are encouraged to engage in aggressive enforcement of all statutes to restore a sense of order and to ensure that the type of behavior described here is deterred.

Secondly—and in my humble opinion, the key that allows CompStat to work so well—is that the NYPD policies that allow the individual commanders expanded responsibility, authority and discretion over their troops were revised. Bosses now can assign officers (using a variety of enforcement techniques, such as plainclothes and unmarked cars) to hot spots where the most criminal activity is taking place. It’s this zero tolerance for any type of anti-social behavior and the flexibility to deploy officers to those areas where the incidents are happening that make CompStat so successful. Of course, This also makes it controversial. With more aggressive enforcement comes allegations of “too much police presence” or heavy-handedness by officers. But in many cities, the CompStat concept is working well.

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Dave Grossi

Dave Grossi is a retired police lieutenant from upstate New York now residing in southwest Florida.


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