In 1995, the NYPD’s adoption of CompStat, a computer program for tracking crime stats and trends, initially helped dramatically reduce crime around the city. But soon, pressure to continue decreasing crime rates, and to receive positive performance evaluations based on CompStat’s data, led officers to start making more and more unnecessary arrests and to misuse stop-and-frisk. “Crime by the Numbers,” a short documentary directed by Don Argott for ESPN and FiveThirtyEight, tells the story of Adrian Schoolcraft, a Brooklyn cop who blew the whistle on NYPD officers abusing citizens and misusing CompStat to keep their stats looking good. After gathering evidence on his higher-ups’ abuses of power throughout 2009, Schoolcraft became a victim of the system’s injustice himself.
While quota systems requiring officers to make a minimum number of arrests per month are illegal, the evidence in the documentary makes it painfully clear that the NYPD uses these systems anyway. “I told you last week, they’re looking at those numbers,” says one officer to his team on a recording Schoolcraft made. He then threatens his underlings with “uncomfortable” assignments if they don’t start upping their arrest numbers. “People better get moving,” he says. “I’m not talking about losing your job, but they could make your job real uncomfortable. And we all know what that means.” “It’s all about the numbers,” says another officer on recording. “You see a little old lady walking by the scene of a robbery? Stop and talk to her. 250 [stop-and-frisk] her.” On the flipside of this pressure to arrest people indiscriminately was the tendency to misreport or underreport major crimes in certain precincts so that CompStat data wouldn’t reveal that crime rates had gone up, which would lead to further crimes.
The documentary is a chilling and timely expose of widespread abuse of citizens’ civil rights by the very people meant to protect those citizens, and a dispiriting example of what happens when this corrupt policing culture is challenged by one of its own.
Watch the documentary here, and read more about Adrian Schoolcraft, whose story of whistleblowing originally came out in the Village Voice in 2010, here.