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CompStat for Smaller Departments

Written by John Dorriety

All organizations have goals, objectives and a way of measuring their success. In the business world companies provide products and services with the goal of making a profit. If the profit made is sufficient to maintain the business and provide growth, then the business considers itself successful.

Governmental organizations also provide a service to the public, but their funding is taxed based and not profit based. And yet there is still a responsibility to provide that service regardless of how much budget support the organization has at its disposal.

With law enforcement agencies, the general goals are that of maintaining order, enforcing laws, and providing services to the citizens. More specifically, crime reduction is seen as a major goal of police. Agency administrators attempt to provide these services as effectively and efficiently as possible with the funding provided. In order to do this, administrators have to do more than watch their budgets; they need accurate feedback.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, technology has advanced greatly in the fight against crime. Now administrations can utilize computer technology in management issues. Originally developed in the New York Police Department under the acronym CompStat (computer crime comparison statistics), officers organized a program of accountability and put into operation.

Precinct commanders, now held responsible for crime in their districts, gathered, analyzed, and presented information publicly in open meetings. Other supervisors, peers, and the press were allowed to attend the meetings.

After the implementation of CompStat crime in New York dropped 27% between 1993 and 1995, a drastic decrease compared to the overall national drop of only 2%. The decrease in crime was directly linked to the New York’s use of CompStat to analyze crime data and provide this information back to precinct commanders.

This type of information has been available for some time, but little use was made of it as applied to the day-to-day activities of the beat cop. In this fashion, the information was made directly available to supervisors who were held directly accountable for the levels of criminal activity in their precinct.

How it Works

The philosophy behind the CompStat program is four-fold. First, the program requires accurate and timely intelligence for effective crime fighting to occur. This is usually accomplished by providing information concerning the time span in which crimes usually occur, as well as information on how, where, and by whom. This information is compiled and analyzed to give a good overall picture of the criminal element’s activities.

Next, the program develops effective tactics and strategies. Rather than simply answering calls for service, officers layout plans that are flexible and adaptable to prevent simply displacing crime or moving it from one area to another. The program also analyzes tactics to make sure that enforcement efforts are being generated in the areas where crime rates are the greatest. This involves using whatever resources are at the agency’s disposal, including the cooperation of other agencies.

The third process involves rapid deployment of personnel and resources. Once the problem has been identified and a plan drawn up, implementing the plan as quickly as possible is also necessary for reduction in crime. The issue of “follow-up” is a key component to CompStat. Management needs to keep records to insure plans are indeed carried out and the results reported at the next meeting.

Finally, all phases of the program require relentless follow-up and assessment. This follow-up procedure is necessary to prevent stagnation of the program allowing objective analysis to the operation as to its success or failure to achieve a certain task. Nothing goes forgotten, if the issue is labeled as a “follow-up” issue; it will be discussed again at the next meeting.

The program has spread across the nation and has been very successful in large agencies such as the Philadelphia Police Department and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, but what about the smaller agencies? Can CompStat work for them? The answer is, yes.

Modified CompStat

In Alabama, the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, an agency much smaller in size than New York or Broward County, implemented a similar CompStat program. The equipment investment was minimal, but the information it brings to the attention of the command staff is highly valued.

The first question that had to be answered was what information is CompStat going to cover? As with Tuscaloosa County, a smaller agency will find this evolves over time. Each presentation may bring issues to light that require not only follow-up, but also continued monitoring. Therefore, as time passes, CompStat grows.

Unlike the larger agency that has multiple precincts requiring meetings ever five or six weeks, smaller agencies may cover the data from the entire agency at one meeting. Also, because of staffing issues, it might be impractical to meet as often. Meetings can be set quarterly or bi-monthly to make the program fit the agencies resources.

Sufficient funding may not exist for a full-time CompStat team. Putting the program together becomes an agency— wide task with the various division heads responsible for assimilating the data. The agency then turns this information over to officers or employees who put the final presentation together. Even if the agency has weekly staff meetings, the CompStat meeting brings a more detailed examination of progress to light which the regular meetings might overlook.

Initially, some of the main topics covered by the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office were personnel issues involving sick time used and overtime. The Sheriff’s office also tracked and plotted occurrences of burglaries and thefts by pulling the information from the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and importing the data into a mapping program. This pinpointed the location of particular crimes over a given period of time.

The program identified clusters, which led to inquiries about the status of these cases, availability of suspects and plans of action. Other items initially tracked included officer activity, mileage and gas usage by patrol units, civil paper and warrant service numbers, number of cases assigned and cleared by investigative units, and number of 911 and non-emergency calls received by dispatch.

Problems Encountered

Although there were no major issues to contend with, in the smaller version of CompStat there were some areas identified for improvement and additional information added to the program. Crime numbers generated by CAD systems were found to be misleading. Complainants do not always know the proper way to report a crime.

For example, many people still say, “I’ve been robbed” when in fact their home has been burglarized, a different crime entirely. It was found that what might be initially reported as a theft may indeed be a burglary or vice versa.

Since Tuscaloosa County scans all written reports into an indexed database or Records Management System (RMS) for easy retrieval, the Information Technology department was asked to help generate a reporting system that could be exported into a mapping program that would provide a more accurate reporting of crime occurrences.

The Tuscaloosa County Jail was also made a part of the CompStat evaluation. In a separate meeting, some similar personnel issues were examined. Since the jail was going through the accreditation process with the American Correctional Association, the progress was monitored for this as well. CompStat is utilized to monitor jail expenses in areas such as food and medical cost for inmates, programs for inmates such as GED, anger management, religious services and counseling needs.

Even with meetings occurring on a less frequent basis than larger agencies the administration is able to see where the problems are and make sure they are addressed in a timely and efficient manner. It also provides an efficient way for budget monitoring in many areas and with division commanders involved, they can directly participate in budget management. This demonstrates that even a smaller agency can benefit from the program.

Putting the Program Together

Ideally, when starting a CompStat program it’s best if you can have a staff to specifically handle putting the program together. Larger agencies can often hire someone with crime analysis experience to help with analyzing data or personnel to work solely on CompStat, but this is not always the case. The smaller the agency, the less likely they can afford a team specifically aimed at working on CompStat projects alone.

In this scenario, it becomes an agency wide team project with all divisions cooperating to provide the information needed in the proper format. Then a team whose job is partially devoted to CompStat can finish putting the program together for the final presentation. A smaller agency will generally have less data to compile and those putting the final production together will need computer skills with graphs and certain software applications.

With the cost of computer technology decreasing, even small agencies can benefit from this type of program. Much of the software is available off the shelf and can be run on most standard PCs. For example Adobe® Acrobat® is a useful program that can convert word documents, charts and digital photos into a presentation that can be projected on a screen with bookmarks added on the side for jumping from one item to another without having to following a particular sequence.

By adding a projector to the computer, the information is now available for the entire staff to view. The department can also print the presentation in book form using the same software. Much of the information can be downloaded from an agency’s CAD system or Records Management System (RMS). These systems can be easily networked to allow for easier access and downloading of data. If agencies are not utilizing computer record keeping in this manner, officers will be required to manually enter the data.

The information that is considered to be essential to the CompStat meeting is whatever an administration wishes to monitor. These areas might include: crime rates, arrest or cases cleared, crime patterns, sick leave used, overtime used, citizen’s complaints and officer activity. It is up to the administration to determine what issues are important to them.

Once gathered, the department should print the information in book form to match the projected information so that all commanders in the meeting can follow along. Attendees should compare information from past CompStat meetings. Whether comparisons are made to past quarters, year-to-date or past years, the administration can make a clear determination whether or not progress is being made and if not, strategize what changes need to be made.

Whether programs like CompStat actually reduce crime is still a question that needs answering. Additional research will be needed to completely satisfy the academic community. However, CompStat does appear to provide the accountability that management expects from its supervisors. If administrators are to expect the biggest bang for their tax dollar buck a closer monitoring of agency activity is essential. It is difficult for supervisors to skirt responsibility when the information is staring them in the face.

Lieutenant John Dorriety has 23 years of law enforcement experience and is currently the Tuscaloosa County, AL Sheriff’s Office Assistant Jail Administrator. He is also adjunct faculty with Shelton State Community College where he teaches in the Criminal Justice field. He is available at jkdorriety@aol.com.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2005

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