Shake HPD blues with NYPD savvy
By ALAN HELFMAN, JAY WALL and WILLIAM A. WOLFF
The time has come for Houston to adopt a fundamental change in policing
similar to programs implemented in New York City and Boston, Indianapolis,
Philadelphia, Baltimore, Austin, Seattle, Durham, Los Angeles, Chicago and
San Diego, to name a few.
Over the past few years a variety of concerns and problems have arisen at
HPD. These problems include: Crime lab mismanagement, the K-Mart parking lot
arrest fiasco, the recent spike in murders, HPD's risky chase policy,
manpower shortages, missing guns from the HPD property room, promiscuous
Taser use, out-of-control overtime and problems with crime statistics
It's our opinion that Focusing on these problems as individual concerns
misses the point. We believe "the point" is that HPD has long been poorly
managed, unfocused and not nearly as effective as it might be in performing
its charge of protecting Houstonians 's citizens from crime.
It's time for a change.
Any serious business person would agree that you can't manage what you can't
measure. Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt admitted in January of this year
that HPD was slow to discern crime patterns due to outmoded tools for crime
analysis. The bottom line is that Crime statistics should be the police
departmentHPD's bottom line, the absolute best indicator of how the
policedepartment is doing, beat by beat, district by district and citywide.
One would naturally assume that all police departments work this way, with
command staff watching crime trends with the same hawk-like attention that
private corporations' management staffs pay to profit and loss, or cash
flow. One would specifically think that the police department of HoustonHPD,
, Texas the fourth largest city in America, an
organization with an annual budget approaching $600 million, would operate
this way. One would be wrong.
To get some perspective on why we think a new approach to policing needs to
be implemented here, let's look back at New York City in the early 1990s:
Crime was out of control; low-level drug dealing was prevalent; public
spaces were marred by ubiquitous graffiti; omnipresent "squeegee men" preyed
on motorists; homeless people took up residence on sidewalks and in building
entrances; public intoxication was rife; loud music's base beat pulsed
incessantly; and aggressive panhandlers plied their trade citywide.
These quality-of-life problems conveyed a message that disorder and
incivility prevailed, that social controls had broken down and that no one
really cared about the neighborhoods in which they occurred.
Enter Bill Bratton. When Bratton first came to New York as newly appointed
chief of the transit police in 1990, a transit police lieutenant, Jack
Maple, asked Bratton to look at the 55-foot maps that he used to chart crime
on the subways. Maple called them "maps of the future." He talked about his
theory of policing and, fortunately for the people of New York City, Bratton
The transit police took on a zero-tolerance policy and cracked down on
quality-of-life crimes in the subways, such as panhandling, public urination
and turnstile jumping.
Perpetrators were stopped and frisked. Warrants were checked. Many of these
misdeameanants were found to possess illegal guns and/or drugs.
They were arrested and questioned. In turn, they often gave up their weapon
and drug suppliers, and occasionally burglars, robbers, rapists and
murderers of whom they knew.
By taking a zero tolerance approach throughout the subway system, and by
specifically using maps to identify patterns of illegal activity such as
gang robberies, the transit police were able to cut their incidence in the
subways by an astounding 99 percent, from 1,200 such robberies per year to
When newly elected Mayor Rudolph Giuliani chose Bratton to be the New York
Police Department commissioner in 1994, Bratton tapped Jack Maple for the
job of deputy commissioner. This dynamic duo then took the methodology they
had used in attacking crime in the subway system above ground.
In a relatively brief period, NYPD transformed itself from a passive and
reactive agency lacking energy and focus to an agency that responded quickly
and strategically to crime. Bratton and Maple sold the rank and file on the
idea that sustained, aggressive and highly coordinated enforcement aimed at
reducing quality-of-life offenses could tip the balance on serious violent
crime. They reiterated the "broken-windows" truth that petty offenders and
hard-core criminals are often one and the same people.
NYPD used timely and accurate intelligence to identify emerging patterns of
crime and quality-of-life problems, swiftly deployed personnel and other
resources to bring a comprehensive array of effective tactics to bear on the
problem, and relentlessly followed up and assessed results to ensure the
problem was truly solved. Elevating the level of responsibility for
gathering crime statistics from a clerical task to an administrative
obligation signaled that there was a new regime in town.
This revolution in the way NYPD conducted its business was the result of a
radically new and dynamic police management process known as CompStat.
During the Giuliani administration, murders dropped from 1,960 in 1993 to
640 in 2003, and the overall crime rate dropped by an astounding 66 percent.
New York City, in the effective form of NYPD, shattered criminology's
central myth, but most criminologists remain in denial.
Policing, they still insist, can do little to lower crime. Economic
inequality, demographic trends, changing drug-use patterns, these determine
crime levels, they say, not police tactics.
Nevertheless, since 1994, New York City has enjoyed a crime drop unmatched
in the rest of the country, in fact unparalleled in history.
Only NYPD's revolutionary style of policing can explain it. Yet, rather than
flooding the city to study this paradigm-breaking phenomenon, most
criminologists are busy looking the other way. Though crime fell across the
country, in New York City it plummeted at twice the national average. How
were these results achieved?
CompStat was the greatest organizational change in policing in the 20th
century. CompStat (Comparative Statistics or Computer Statistics) was an
entirely new way of gathering and using information to fight crime.
How does CompStat work? Simply put, it uses information about criminal
activity to outsmart criminals. Computerized pin mapping and other
cutting-edge crime analysis techniques serve as the NYPD's radar system,
greatly simplifying the early identification of crime patterns.
The GIS (Geographic Information System) component is key to pattern
recognition; it enables the police to see when crime is only near bus routes
or only near parks or playgrounds, or schools. It can highlight banks, ATMs,
convenience stores and other targets to speed pattern recognition. Other
information such as the location of probationers or parolees, residences of
those with outstanding warrants, homeless shelters, pawn shops and known
"chop shops," can be overlaid.
The aim is to identify any and all common denominators - time of day, escape
routes, perpetrators' descriptions and weapons involved - to discern
patterns. Twice a week in New York, precinct captains pored over detailed
crime information in each precinct. They had printouts for each type of
infraction, maps to identify crime clusters and lists of every precinct
resident on probation or parole.
Though HPD had a system for a period of years called STAARS (Statistical
Analysis for Active Response System), it is no longer used. Today in
Houston, crime statistics, such as they are, take almost six weeks to reach
the chief's desk, and longer to reach the public domain.
The criminals aren't waiting at the scene of the crime for six weeks in
order to get caught! Crime is dynamic and changing. Police tactics need to
reflect that reality and adjust to it. In order for the police to keep ahead
of the bad guys, it is essential that the command staff conducting the
CompStat weekly meeting (in some cities, twice weekly) communicate clearly
that the department is committed to effectively measuring police performance
and that poor or ineffective efforts will not be accepted. Obviously, "buy
in" from the mayor and police chief is critical to the success of CompStat.
Despite the many accolades and attention it has received, CompStat has also
been greatly misunderstood as a management system. CompStat has been
variously portrayed as a high-pressure meeting between executives and middle
managers, as a technology system, as a computer program or as a system for
sharing important management information.
The fact that the CompStat management style involves all of these things
(and a great deal more) may account for some misconceptions that surround
The fact that 14 years ago NYPD had no functional system in place to rapidly
and accurately capture crime statistics or to use them for strategic
planning until the advent of CompStat was damning. The fact that NYPD
executives in previous mayoral administrations never bothered or never saw a
compelling need to get accurate and timely crime intelligence is emblematic
of the overall lack of concern that characterized many of the departments'
In our opinion, that attitude epitomizes that of many of HPD's current
upper-ranking officers. Many here still yearn for the days of the feel-good
but feckless "community policing" once practiced in New York and later in
CompStat is an unmatched mechanism for disseminating the department's
cumulative knowledge about tactics and for evaluating what does and doesn't
CompStat is not just a crime-control or crime-prevention tool either; it is
a formidable management tool. When CompStat was first instituted in 1994,
the CompStat analysis office analyzed the online booking system to see how
many officers had not effected an arrest during the year. The results were
shocking: 28 percent of the police in the borough of Queens, for example,
had not produced an arrest in the first half of the year.
CompStat also focuses on morale in each command by examining sick rates, the
number and type of disciplinary actions taken, the number of civilian
complaints made against officers, and a host of other statistical data
necessary to properly run a big city police department. It also enables
senior management to gauge each commander's performance in managing such
important functions as overtime expense, traffic safety and even the number
of automobile/motorcycle accidents involving department vehicles.
As to those who say CompStat won't work here because of HPD's understaffing
and the huge geographic area that it must police (633 square miles), we
would ask you to look at the Los Angeles Police Department, where former
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton implemented the CompStat system.
When Bratton arrived in L.A., he found a shrinking department, crime rates
that had been climbing for three years and a demoralized organization.
During his four-year tenure as LAPD's chief, morale within the department
has skyrocketed, relations with the minority community have improved and
crime has fallen 25 percent. The LAPD was manpower-challenged, too, with
2.25 officers per 1,000 population and a 468-square mile territory to
police. The "won't work here" argument won't hold water.
Houston Mayor Bill White has shown little or no interest in implementing
CompStat for HPD. We believed that a mayor elected based on his promise to
bring "best practices" to city government would have instituted a version of
CompStat a long time ago.
CompStat can and will bring accountability to HPD. It would empower HPD's
middle management and allow the cream of both its managerial and front line
forces to rise to the top.
Energizing the stodgy command at HPD, forcing city departments to work
together and ultimately altering public behavior will take hard work and
guts. We hope our city leaders will step up and meet the challenge.
It's about time.
Helfman is a local automobile dealer. J.W. "Jay" Wall III and William
A.Wolff are commercial real estate brokers specializing in tenant
Brought to you by the HoustonChronicle.com
From: Allen Ueckert [mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED]
Sent: Saturday, May 19, 2007 5:04 PM
Subject: Reminder: Neartown Meeting this Tuesday, May 22nd
All - Just a reminder that this Tuesday is the monthly Neartown Meeting,
beginning at 7pm at Cherryhurst Community Center.
Topic: Neighborhood Crime
Last week the Neartown civic association presidents met to discuss a number
of issues, including crime and security. The result of that discussion was
to work with HPD, our City Council members and other community
stakeholders/groups to address certain crime "hot spots", the perceived
officer shortage, the storefront hours and overall approach and methodology
for addressing the increase in crime in our neighborhood. Neartown is
working to pull together a workshop for the July (or August) meeting to
discuss these issues with our City Council representatives and HPD.
In preparation for such a meeting and to ensure that we are able to address
specific topic and leave the meeting with action items, I would like to take
the opportunity to use the meeting on Tuesday to formulate a list of
specific issues we want addressed as well as specific activity you see in
your neighborhoods on a daily basis that contributes to the uplift in
I will have the latest crime stats and we will take inventory of these
specific items that we want to get addressed with HPD and our CMs. Again,
the point of this meeting will be to gather specific issues and contributors
so that we can get this list in front of the appropriate parties to address
at the next meeting. The purpose of these meetings will be to conclude with
action items and timely follow-up.
Please pass along to your membership and I hope to see everyone at the
meeting on Tuesday.
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