Well, That’s One Way To Keep The Crime Rate Low

Today’s New York Times reports that New York City Police officers are apparently not reporting some crimes:

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, 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.”


The reasons for not taking a report, police officials said, can vary. Some officers seek to avoid the dull task of preparing reports; others may fear discipline for errors in paperwork. Sometimes officers run out of time because they are directed to another job.

There are certainly calls that do not merit a crime report: a victim’s account of an alleged crime can be deemed dubious, for example.

However, some commanders said, officers sometimes bend to pressure by supervisors to eschew report-taking. “Cops don’t want a bad reputation, and stigma,” one commander said. “They know they have to please the sergeants.” Like several other officers and supervisors, he spoke only on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

The sergeants, in turn, are acting on the wishes of higher-ups to keep crime statistics down, a desire that is usually communicated stealthily, the commander said. As an era of low crime continues, and as 2011 draws to a close with felony numbers running virtually even with last year’s figures, any new felony is a significant event in a precinct and a source of consternation to commanders.

Obviously, it’s usually the so-called “minor” crimes that end up getting treated this way. Pick-pocketing, which is an almost impossible crime to solve unless you catch someone in the act or catch them using stolen credit cards later down the line, is probably be prime example of that. But New York, like many other big cities, has a plethora of laws for a wide variety of minor offenses. Add to that the fact that the act of processing a police report can often eat up the better part of an patrolman’s shift, and the incentives to not file reports in those types of cases seem pretty obvious.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Policing, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John Peabody says:

    Careful Doug…there’s some double-pasted paragraphs above.

  2. Ugh. Fixed.

  3. I think This American Life had a piece on this a month or so ago … Ah yes


  4. tps says:

    According to the Brit-bloggers, this is common over there. To the point that you don’t even bother calling the cops if your house is broken into.

  5. John Peabody says:

    I think this is a manifestation of the horrible word, “metrics”. We let the nerds take rough, simple data and transform the facts into beautiful charts and graphs. Now the nerds rule. The imperative has become producing data that will construct elegant charts. Mid-level technocrats do nothing but devise new data points, compilation techniques, and formulas. Sadly, their efforts (which produce nothing but the re-arrangement of pixels on a LCD screen) have become more valuable to the organization than the actual workers on the street, the plant floor, or the purchasing desk.

  6. @John Peabody:

    The cops, not the nerds, were talking rape down to minor assault, to make better numbers. Listen to the link above. Even allowing for some bias by the recording cop, it is bad.

    Metrics may have systematic biases, but it’s something else when that kind of violation of mission occurs.

  7. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @tps: When I lived in unincorporated King County, Washington State, the policy of the county sheriff’s office was to send a form in the mail so homeowners could “self-report” house break-ins. Reason: three consecutive years of supplemental budget levy failures combined with increased housing development in the county had caused staffing cuts to the point that the sheriff’s office no longer had the man power to investigate home break-in’s. The form was subsequently signed by a staffer in the office and returned to the homeowner for the reporting requirement for insurance claims.

  8. Laura says:

    Don’t underestimate the effects of tax cuts on law enforcement.

    I live in Washington State, too. Over the last thirty years there has been one tax cutting intiative after another passed, many generated by a very bad Republican who plays the state’s initiative process in service to the Koch borthers’ agenda. Washinton voters recently nailed the coffin lid down on themselves with an intiative that severely limits the legislature’s abiity to raise revenues. Result: there is no longer enough money to run basic government services of any kind.

    I am going to put this in raw partisan political terms: the intiatives that reduced revenues were promoted by the Republican party under the usual talking points about so-called government waste. The voters were not responsible enough to ask themselves what the well off Republican leaders, safe in their gated communities, might consider to be wasteful spending and the Repubicans leadership was careful not to enlighten them. Instead it was all hint hint about money wasted on welfare.

    Turns out the wasted money was for health care for children, health insurance for care providers, law enforcement, fire departments, education, animal control, maintenance of infrastructure, foster care, mental health services…

    Contrary to Republican political theology one cannot get something for nothing. Underfinance the social contract and you get Social Darwinism. The Republican leaders who conned the state’s voters into screwing themselves are wealthy enough to use their own money to protect themselves from the consequences of their selfishness. They will use hate talk radio and Faux News to bamboozles some of the people they screwed into blaming the problems the Republicans caused on the Evil Other.

    That’s what Republicans do.

    So yeah it could be that some of the pressure to fudge the data in New York comes from lack or resources because of underfunding, I’m not familiar enough with New York to have an opinion about that. I know that out here there are whole sections of counties where there is virtually no law enforcement.

  9. Murray says:

    Could this be the result of seeing judges let criminals walk time after time? It gets kind of old. Where is Dirty Harry? We need you.