Friday, March 16, 2012

A vindictive bureaucracy seeks to destroy a critic

I was angered to read an account of how a 'whistleblower' in the New York City Police Department (NYPD) was treated by his superiors. The Village Voice reports:

For more than two years, Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded every roll call at the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn and captured his superiors urging police officers to do two things in order to manipulate the "stats" that the department is under pressure to produce: Officers were told to arrest people who were doing little more than standing on the street, but they were also encouraged to disregard actual victims of serious crimes who wanted to file reports.

Arresting bystanders made it look like the department was efficient, while artificially reducing the amount of serious crime made the commander look good.

In October 2009, Schoolcraft met with NYPD investigators for three hours and detailed more than a dozen cases of crime reports being manipulated in the district. Three weeks after that meeting — which was supposed to have been kept secret from Schoolcraft's superiors — his precinct commander and a deputy chief ordered Schoolcraft to be dragged from his apartment and forced into the Jamaica Hospital psychiatric ward for six days.

... NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly ordered an investigation into Schoolcraft's claims. By June 2010, that investigation produced a report that the department has tried to keep secret for nearly two years.

The Voice has obtained that 95-page report, and it shows that the NYPD confirmed Schoolcraft's allegations. In other words, at the same time that police officials were attacking Schoolcraft's credibility, refusing to pay him, and serving him with administrative charges, the NYPD was sitting on a document that thoroughly vindicated his claims.

. . .

The investigation found that crime complaints were changed to reflect misdemeanor rather than felony crimes, which prevented those incidents from being counted in the all-important crime statistics. In addition, the investigation concluded that "an unwillingness to prepare reports for index crimes exists or existed in the command."

Moreover, a significant number of serious index crimes were not entered into the computer tracking system known as OmniForm. "This was more than administrative error," the probe concluded.

There was an "atmosphere in the command where index crimes were scrutinized to the point where it became easier to either not take the report at all or to take a report for a lesser, non-index crime," investigators concluded.

Precinct Commander Steven Mauriello "failed to meet [his] responsibility." As a result, "an atmosphere was created discouraging members of the command to accurately report index crimes."

. . .

The implications of the report are obvious: If the 81st Precinct was a typical station house, then crime manipulation is more widespread than city officials have admitted.

John Eterno, a criminologist at Molloy College and a former NYPD captain, says that what was happening in the 81st Precinct is no isolated case. "The pressures on commanders are enormous, to make sure the crime numbers look good," Eterno says. "This is a culture. This is happening in every precinct, every transit district, and every police housing service area. This culture has got to change."

. . .

The seven index crimes—murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft—are the central public indicators of the city's crime rate and, by extension, its reputation. The crime numbers are also the bedrock in evaluating the Bloomberg administration and critical to attracting tourism and economic development to the city.

As a result, Mayor Bloomberg and Kelly have gone to great lengths to insist the crime statistics are accurate. They have publicly downplayed the Schoolcraft allegations and insisted that any "underreporting" is a tiny anomaly.

Kelly's aides have also sought to marginalize Schoolcraft — to, in effect, kill the messenger. And the department has succeeded in making his life extremely uncomfortable. Schoolcraft has been suspended without pay for 27 months, he faces department charges, he was placed under surveillance for a time, and the city even blocked his application for unemployment benefits.

There's much more at the link. Highly recommended reading.

Note that the NYPD's mistreatment of Mr. Schoolcraft is ongoing, despite its own internal investigation having conclusively proved that his allegations were correct. This is what happens when an organization is taken over by desk-bound bureaucrats. They regard the preservation of the 'system' as being more important than the mission for which that 'system' was established (in this case, the maintenance of the rule of law and the preservation of order in New York City). It's precisely the same problem that afflicted the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in dealing with the child sex abuse scandal within the ranks of its clergy, or the flawed organizational culture at NASA that contributed to the Challenger disaster (identified so cogently in the report of the Rogers Commission, particularly in an appendix submitted by the late Richard Feynman).

What I can't understand is that even when the truth of Mr. Schoolcraft's allegations has been established beyond challenge, the NYPD is still persecuting him. He's launched a Federal lawsuit against the organization, and his ongoing mistreatment must surely be contributing to his chances of winning it. It's almost as if the NYPD's "powers that be" can't admit that they were wrong, or made a mistake: that they're intrinsically incapable of doing so. If that's the case, it bodes very ill for the people of New York City, because it will mean that they can't rely on the NYPD to 'protect and serve' them at all. Instead, that organization can only be trusted to 'protect and serve' itself - and if that's the case, why should the taxpayers of New York City fund its activities any longer?

Methinks it's time for a housecleaning at senior level throughout the NYPD. Question is, are there any New York politicians with the courage and honesty to do so? Mayor Bloomberg, through his inaction, appears to have proven conclusively that he doesn't possess either attribute.



Mark said...

"They regard the preservation of the 'system' as being more important than the mission for which that 'system' was established (in this case, the maintenance of the rule of law and the preservation of order in New York City)."

Right there is the sentence that boils it all down, and as you wrote, the NYPD is not the only organization guilty of it.

Excellent observations sir.

trailbee said...

Why did Mr. Schoolcraft blow the whistle while still employed there? He had to know the culture of the dept. and how he would be treated. I think he's lucky to remain alive. There is an attitude of "lets get him, or her" when someone leaks bad news. These persons take a physical risk of being killed. This guy had huevos.
But, as you pointed out, Peter, this happened in the Catholic Church, and it happens in big companies, pharmaceutical companies or at schools, where the whistle blowers are sidelined, or exiles.

Anonymous said...

And, you think the culture of the NYPD is radically different from the culture of every police agency in the country?

There's a good reason it's called "the blue wall."

Not that the cops are much different from any organization that rewards bureaucratic accomplishments rather than real world achievements.

Billll said...

The same thing has been going on in England for some time now to the point that no one actually believes any of the violent crime stats that come from there. Instead the current setup is credited for producing a peaceful low-crime environment.

Chip said...

One of New York's former leader is now Chicago's Superintendent and the same allegations are popping up there. Its called CompStat in Chicago and nobody except the media believes the statistics.

raven said...

Pournelle's "Iron Law of Bureaucracy" in action.

The bit about arresting innocents and dis-regarding victims is one of the things sir Robert Peel explicitly warned against.

Basically folks, we have NO underlying moral code left in this country, in numbers sufficient to make a difference.

Chris said...

I had been hearing rumors about both practices for years, and was wondering when the rock would be overturned. As with most large police organizations, there is no effective oversight and little if any internal control mechanisms. So what should we expect? Just like No Child Left Behind, which eventually forces schools to cheat in various ways to achieve the unachievable, the public clamor for police to "do something" about crime forces some kind of similar activity. Set crazy goals, get crazy behavior from those trying to meet them.