Everything I Need To Know About The Effect of Metrics on Police Behavior I Learned from The Wire

Scathing report on how NY police gamed the process to improve their reported crime numbers.  Nothing in this should be the least surprising to anyone who watched a few seasons of The Wire.

These are not just accounting shenanigans.  There were actions the directly affected the public and individual liberty.  People were rounded up on the street on BS charges to pad arrest stats while real, substantial crimes went ignored in a bid to keep them out of the reported stats.

There is one part in here that is a good illustration of public vs. private power.  People who fear corporations seem to have infinite trust for state institutions.  But the worst a corporation was ever able to do to a whistle blower was fire him.  This is what the state does:

For more than two years, Adrian Schoolcraftsecretly 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.


  1. Matt:

    The word "police" is superfluous, in your headline. It's Econ 101...what you reward, you get more of, and what you penalize, you get less of. In Econ 201 they explain that "what you reward" and "what you punish" are necessarily subsets of "what you measure".

  2. MattS:

    This is where both the Democrats and the Republicans fail to understand that large scale government will inveitably fail at everything it tries to do.

    Even where corruption doesn't cause problems, the system invetiably becomes bogged down in perverse incentives.

    Large corps are vulberable to this as well, but those corporations that do fall into this trap generally fail unless the CEO is pollitically connected (Government Motors).

  3. me:

    Large scale government is not inherently more evil than large corporations; both are effectively above the law (for different reasons). What is lacking is a systemic feedback loop (like, say, trial by a jury of peers and right (or, better yet) requirement to record actions). That said, I understand why a lot of folks from non-third-world countries outside the US fail to see how dangerous the US power apparatus has become... there is a certain expectation of standards of behavior that simply isn't met here.

  4. MattS:

    I didn't claim that large scale government was evil. Even if you had a perfect mechanism to prevent corruption (which does not exist) any large enough govermnet will eventually become inherently incompetent due to perverse incentives.

    Corporations that become large enough can have the same problems. I don't buy the line that large corporations are above the law. But even conceding the point for the sake of argument, ultimately even a monopoly is not above the market. Any coropration that becomes boged down with perverse incentives will be destroyed by the market. It is only government intervention that has saved several recent examples (GM).

    There are most certainly corporations that have become effectively above the law. However these companies come in all sizes. The political connectedness of thier top officers has more to do with being above the law than size. Take Halibuton for example, this is one company many would say is above the law but they aren't one of the big boys by any means.

  5. RickZ:

    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.

    That's the real crime in this story. These two high ranking cops should be arrested for false imprisonment.

  6. marco73:

    Faking the statistics to make yourself look good at the cost of citizen's freedom and lives? Dragging dissidents off to the Psych ward?
    It's Soviet Russia writ large, just without the beet soup.

  7. Bram:

    I grew up near Boston so I kind of knew that big city and state police departments were politically compromised.


  8. Benjamin Cole:

    Here in Los Angeles, we have been undergoing a multi-year fabulously expensive expansion of our police department.

    Crime has been falling in L.A. for decades, and now is at lower levels than in the 1960s, despite a larger population. There seems to be no connection between the size of our police force and crime rates. However, long-term incarceration of criminals does seem to help cut crime rates.

    L.A. Police get terrific pensions after just 25 years of service, and become lifelong wards of city taxpayers after that (only federal soldiers seem to have a better deal, becoming lifelong wards of federal taxpayers after just 20 years service).

    The city police union is extremely powerful, and so little can be done. And yes, like police in other districts, LAPD can be abusive, and never face consequences. One LAPD'er shot a homeless 90-pound lady armed with a screwdriver---he shot her with "dum-dum" or hollow-point expanding bullets, now LAPD standard issue, and she died. The cop was found to have followed policy.

    Despite falling crime rate, most police seem to wearing more armor and carrying higher-powered weaponry than ever before. A arrest of a local small-time drug hoodlum was attended by no less than 30 LA County Sheriffs recently (I saw this myself). They use labor like it is free--and of course it is, paid for by taxpayers.

  9. dullgeek:

    IMHO, the main reason to fear corporations is the fact that they can get the government to do their bidding. Of course this is because the government has power for sale. It amazes me that the reaction that people have to this is to give the government more power.