Bending the needle: NYPD edition
The title refers to the common organizational practice of distorting reports, facts, and statistics to hide problems—until, of course, the problems become so severe that they can no longer be hidden—Google “Olympus Corporation scandal” for a prime example. Of, to take a domestic example, the false claim that the air around the wreckage of the World Trade towers was safe—a perfectly good lie until the workers started falling ill. But Christine Todd Whitman got away with it, and she’s quite happy about that. The New England Journal of Medicine took a look at the issue in 2007 and Wikipedia has an excellent summary article of the situation.
The idea to which the title refers is that top management, on learning that some indicator is showing serious problems—the needle now being in the red zone—will without hesitation immediately call for bending the needle so that it’s back in the green. Indeed, in my experience, this has been the first response, but perhaps I’ve not had the experience in working with truly good companies in which there is a strong moral obligation to face the truth and report the facts: like the Catholic church, for example.
At any rate, the NYPD is now refusing to record crimes so that their statistics will look better. Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein report in the NY Times:
Jill Korber walked into a drab police station in Queens in July to report that a passing bicyclist had groped her two days in a row. She left in tears, frustrated, she said, by the response of the first officer she encountered.
“He told me it would be a waste of time, because I didn’t know who the guy was or where he worked or anything,” said Ms. Korber, 34, a schoolteacher. “His words to me were, ‘These things happen.’ He said those words.”
Crime victims in New York sometimes struggle to persuade the police to write down what happened on an official report. The reasons are varied. Police officers are often busy, and few relish paperwork. But in interviews, more than half a dozen police officers, detectives and commanders also cited departmental pressure to keep crime statistics low.
While it is difficult to say how often crime complaints are not officially recorded, the Police Department is conscious of the potential problem [the Police Department should be conscious of the problem, because it is the Police Department that is causing the problem - LG], trying to ferret out unreported crimes through audits of emergency calls and of any resulting paperwork.
As concerns grew about the integrity of the data, the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, appointed a panel of former federal prosecutors in January to study the crime-reporting system. The move was unusual for Mr. Kelly, who is normally reluctant to invite outside scrutiny.
The panel, which has not yet released its findings, was expected to focus on the downgrading of crimes, in which officers improperly classify felonies as misdemeanors.
But of nearly as much concern to people in law enforcement are crimes that officers simply failed to record, which one high-ranking police commander in Manhattan suggested was “the newest evolution in this numbers game.”
It is not unusual for detectives, who handle telephone calls from victims inquiring about the status of their cases, to learn that no paperwork exists. Detectives said it was hard to tell if those were administrative mix-ups or something deliberate. But they noted their skepticism that some complaints could simply vanish in the digital age. . .