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Compstat andOrganizational Change    in the Lowell  Police DepartmentChallenges and Opportunities
Compstat andOrganizational Change    in the Lowell  Police DepartmentChallenges and Opportunities             James J. Wil...
The Police Foundation is a private, independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to supportinginnovation and improvement ...
Table of ContentsForeword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...
VI. Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....
Foreword                                                     This report provides another challenge to                    ...
some sector commanders than Compstat’s ven-             Acknowledgmentsturesome ideal of crime fighting.    This report sug...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police DepartmentI. Introduction                                         ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police DepartmentCompstat efforts, notably, New York City, Balti-        ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentmunity initiative, the department has established       ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentment’s top brass, plus a handful of invited guests,     ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department                                                       p...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department     Convinced that Compstat would be a useful        at...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police DepartmentViolent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.          ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department                                                       i...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department    We promised respondents that we would do            ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department     When Davis was first appointed superinten-          ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department    Some department personnel might then have           ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentcity residents and police officers question the value    ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentthat set tangible organizational goals for reducing     ...
Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentare willing or able to do the job of district com-     s...
Compstat challenges and opportunities
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Compstat challenges and opportunities
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  1. 1. Compstat andOrganizational Change in the Lowell Police DepartmentChallenges and Opportunities
  2. 2. Compstat andOrganizational Change in the Lowell Police DepartmentChallenges and Opportunities James J. Willis Stephen D. Mastrofski David Weisburd Rosann Greenspan WASHINGTON, DC i
  3. 3. The Police Foundation is a private, independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to supportinginnovation and improvement in policing. Established in 1970, the foundation has conducted seminalresearch in police behavior, policy, and procedure, and works to transfer to local agencies the bestinformation about practices for dealing effectively with a range of important police operational andadministrative concerns. Motivating all of the foundation’s efforts is the goal of efficient, humanepolicing that operates within the framework of democratic principles and the highest ideals of thenation. The Police Foundation’s research findings are published as an information service.This project was supported by Grant Number 98-IJ-CX-007 by the National Institute of Justice, Officeof Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions contained in this docu-ment are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of theU.S. Department of Justice or the Police Foundation.Additional reports are forthcoming from the larger project, Compstat and Organizational Change,from which this report on the Lowell, Massachusetts, Police Department’s implementation ofCompstat is derived. A Police Foundation Report, The Growth of Compstat in American Policing, willdescribe the national survey that assessed the number of American police agencies using Compstatand measured the degree to which the elements of Compstat were part of their routine and structure.A third report will describe intensive examinations of Compstat’s implementation in three policedepartments–Newark, New Jersey, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Lowell, Massachusetts.©2003 by the Police Foundation. All rights, including translation into other languages, reservedunder the Universal Copyright Convention, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary andArtistic Works and the International and Pan American Copyright Conventions. Permission to quotereadily granted.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data CompStat and organizational change in the Lowell Police Department : challenges and opportunities / James J. Willis ... [et al.]. p. cm. ISBN 1-884614-19-1 (alk. paper) 1. Lowell (Mass). Police Dept. 2. Police administration—Massachusetts—Lowell. 3. Police administration—Data processing. 4. Law enforcement—Data processing. 5. Crime analysis—Data processing. I. Willis, James J. HV8148.L85C66 2004 363.20285--dc22 2004001900ISBN 1-884614-19-11201 Connecticut Avenue, NWWashington, DC 20036-2636(202) 833-1460 • Fax: (202) 659-9149Email: pfinfo@policefoundation.orgwww.policefoundation.orgii
  4. 4. Table of ContentsForeword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vAcknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . viI. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 Background on Lowell and its police . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2II. Overview of Compstat at Lowell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3III. Origins and Development of Compstat at Lowell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 The influence of the NYPD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 The role of the superintendent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 Government support—City Hall and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services . . .6 Early Compstats—fuzzy memories and change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7IV. Research Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8V. Analysis of Lowell’s Experience with Compstat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 Mission Clarification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 Internal Accountability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Geographic Organization of Operational Command . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18 Organizational structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19 Decision making . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19 Coordination issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22 Geographic versus temporal organization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23 Organizational Flexibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24 Manpower . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26 City politics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27 Rivalry between sectors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28 Data-Driven Problem Identification and Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30 A history of Compstat—overcoming technical and learning obstacles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 What kinds of data are used? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33 Visibility of crimes at Compstat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33 How are the data collected, processed, and analyzed? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34 How are the data used? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35 Quality of the data—timeliness and accuracy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38 The Crime Analysis Unit (CAU)—autonomy, time constraints, and frustrations . . . . . . .39 Innovative Problem-Solving Tactics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41 Problem solving and brainstorming during Compstat meetings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42 Follow-up . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43 Traditional police responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44 Traditional and innovative police responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45 Innovative police responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .46 External Information Exchange . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48 iii
  5. 5. VI. Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 Mission Clarification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52 Internal Accountability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .53 Geographic Organization of Operational Command . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .54 Organizational Flexibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55 Data-Driven Problem Identification and Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55 Innovative Problem-Solving Tactics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .56 External Information Exchange . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57VII. Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .58Appendices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61 Appendix I: Lowell Police Department Organizational Chart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63 Appendix II: Map of the City of Lowell and City Neighborhoods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .67 Appendix III: Patrol Officer Survey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .71 Appendix IV: Sample Compstat Prep Sheet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .81References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .87Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .89iv
  6. 6. Foreword This report provides another challenge to Compstat’s proponents by showing the programThe birth of Compstat dates back to 1994, when to be a tool whose potential is unfulfilled. Accord-former NYPD police commissioner William Brat- ing to Bratton, Compstat meetings created a senseton asked a team of officers to create a simple data- of immediate accountability that galvanized Newbase with information about the major crimes that York’s local commands, fostered innovative prob-cities must report to the FBI. A significant change lem solving, and guided the department in ration-in police practice ensued when the simple data- ally allocating resources to precincts that mostbase became an elaborate program where police needed them. Implementation of the program inentered crime reports into a computer system that the much smaller Lowell Police Department re-sorted them by type. With the continuing evolu- veals, however, that a gap divides the theory andtion of the program, officers began scrutinizing practice of Compstat.the statistics it generated to create maps and charts Lowell, Massachusetts, like New York City,showing notable changes and emerging problem stoked Compstat’s reputation for working miraclesspots. Meanwhile, department heads convened in crime-ridden streets. Lowell’s crime rate beganregular meetings to discuss crime trends, to ques- to decline in 1994 and continued to drop after thetion district commanders on their responses to department implemented Compstat. Like Newcrime, and to work out future strategies. York, Lowell conducts biweekly Compstat meet- The systematic use of hard data and height- ings where the department’s leaders question sec-ened accountability to reduce crime has been her- tor commanders on problems and crime spikes.alded as a seminal innovation in police manage- While many cities that use Compstat only callment. Compstat’s many advocates claim that it has meetings when a particular sector needs attention,spurred the development of innovative, local, Lowell holds regular meetings where command-crime-fighting strategies and improved public ers present statistics on their sectors and face ansafety. These perceived successes have caused an unnerving grilling if crime has increased.exuberant Compstat movement to rapidly sweep The theory of Compstat notwithstanding,the nation. A Police Foundation survey found that Lowell’s program was subject to internal conflictsa third of the country’s 515 largest police depart- that made it deviate from New York’s prototype.ments had implemented a Compstat-like program Scarce resources and a veiled sense of competi-by 2000 (Weisburd et al. 2001). tion made commanders reluctant to share re- The aura that surrounds Compstat in polic- sources with sectors that were hardest hit by crime.ing circles stems from the marvels that it report- Lack of training in data analysis and general ex-edly worked in New York, where crime plummeted clusion of rank-and-file officers from the Compstatin the 1990s. Faith in the program is not univer- process bred indifference toward the programsal, however, and a number of detractors have among many department members. Conservativearisen to contest the Compstat dogma. They have attitudes toward crime fighting led to continuedargued that crime dropped in New York as a re- reliance on traditional police responses rather thansult of factors such as demographic shifts, the end the innovative, problem-solving strategies that areof the crack epidemic, and a strong economy. They central to the Compstat process. The absence ofhave pointed to other U.S. cities that saw crime systematic follow-up at Lowell’s Compstat meet-similarly decline in the 1990s though they lacked ings often caused the department to plot strategythe benefit of Compstat. They have also challenged on the basis of officers’ impressions of what hadCompstat by questioning the ability of police work previously worked, not on the basis of the data.to significantly affect crime trends that reflect fac- Moreover, the hefty burden of accountability car-tors beyond the control of the police. Bratton ried by sector commanders may have made themlaunched Compstat in the conviction that police reluctant to try new approaches to problems,can manage for better outcomes, but skeptics have though Bratton had seen accountability as a cata-contended that police reforms, including Comp- lyst that would energize police to attack crime.stat, make little dent on the economic trends and The prospect of being publicly criticized by thesocial pathologies that spawn crime. superintendent may have made more impact on v
  7. 7. some sector commanders than Compstat’s ven- Acknowledgmentsturesome ideal of crime fighting. This report suggests that we should temper We are deeply indebted to Superintendent Edwardour enthusiasm for Compstat, but it also acknowl- F Davis III for granting us access to his police de- .edges the valuable impact that the program has partment and for his unconditional backing of thismade on the Lowell Police Department. The de- project. We would also like to thank Deputy Super-partment’s decision makers have become more intendent Kenneth Lavallee for all his assistancefamiliar with the use of data and better informed during our time at Lowell, especially when it cameabout what is taking place in their areas. Sector to administering the officer survey. A note of ap-captains feel more accountable for identifying and preciation also goes to Deputy Superintendentaddressing crime problems, and there has been Dennis Cormier and Captain William Taylor forsome successful use of innovative, crime-fighting their support. We would also like to acknowledgestrategies. At the same time, the endurance of tra- Jill Casey, Stephanie Hunter, and Suzannah Hackerditional practices and structures appears to have for all their administrative help. In addition, weinhibited Compstat’s potential for innovation. would like to thank Officer Mark Trudel for hisAdditional training is necessary if police are to put encouragement. Thanks also to Sergeant Davidmore faith in Compstat’s data-driven approach Abbott for explaining the intricacies of the detail.than in time-honored responses to crime, and This case study would have been impossibleother members of the department must shoulder without the unfailing support of the sector cap-some of the burden of accountability that weighs tains, Captain Arthur Ryan Jr., Captain Susanso heavily on sector commanders. The most ad- Siopes, and Captain Robert DeMoura. Their can-vanced technology is pointless unless the police did and intelligent remarks contributed mightilythemselves understand its value and have the to the overall quality of this project. Moreover,training to use it. By exploring both Lowell’s fail- their thoughtful observations provided invaluableures and successes in carrying out Bratton’s vision, insights into the complexities, rewards, and chal-this report reveals the fallible, human dimension lenges of modern police work.of the Compstat process. We would like to thank Carol Fitzgerald and Brenda Bond for their immeasurable help in ex- Hubert Williams plaining how Compstat works in the Lowell Po- President lice Department. We very much appreciated their time and effort in answering our queries and pro- viding us with relevant documents. Thanks also to the rest of the Crime Analysis Unit: Officer Tom Lombard, Dawn Reeby, Derek Desrochers, and Robin Smith. Their comments and patience con- tributed significantly to our understanding of the overall Compstat process. We would especially like to thank the dozens of precinct personnel who we interviewed and observed in meetings, as well as those patrol officers who completed our survey. We would also like to thank Ann Marie McNally, a former research associate at the Police Foundation, for her help with the data entry process. Finally, we wish to express thanks to Dr. Lisa Yarkony, Police Foundation research associate and editor of this report, and to Police Foundation Communications Director, Mary Malina, manag- ing editor, who oversaw its production.vi
  8. 8. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police DepartmentI. Introduction A National Assessment,” we identified seven core elements of Compstat: (1) mission clarification;What the late Jack Maple, formerly deputy police (2) internal accountability; (3) geographic orga-commissioner of the New York Police Department, nization of operational command; (4) organiza-pithily called “putting cops on dots” has rapidly tional flexibility; (5) data-driven identification ofbecome a fixture in many large police departments problems and assessment of the department’s prob-across the country. Between 1994, when the NYPD lem-solving efforts; (6) innovative problem-solv-first implemented Compstat,1 and 2001, when we ing tactics; and (7) external information exchangecompleted our national survey, a third of depart- (Weisburd et al. 2001). Using these elements as aments with one hundred or more sworn officers general framework, we analyzed how Compstathad implemented a Compstat-like program and is being implemented across the country. The26 percent were planning to do so.2 Widely vaunted project’s initial stage consisted of a national sur-and even referred to as an “emerging paradigm” vey that assessed the number of local police de-in law enforcement, Compstat is an information partments that were using Compstat and measuredand management tool that maps crime statistics the degree to which these Compstat elements wereand holds command staff more accountable for part of a department’s structure and routine. Thethe level of crime in their beats (Walsh 2001, 347). second stage involved sixteen short site visits toIts sweeping popularity among police and policy identify emerging patterns and differences amongmakers has been fueled by a flurry of national Compstat programs across police agencies. Finally,publicity that attributes the recent plummet in we selected three police departments, Newark,New York’s crime rate to Compstat’s innovative New Jersey; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Lowell,use of geographic information systems technol- Massachusetts, as sites suitable for lengthier andogy and cutting-edge management principles. more intensive research and sent a researcher to Much of the literature on Compstat consists each department for a period ranging from two toof brief studies that rely heavily on anecdotal evi- eight months. He or she was responsible for gath-dence or concentrate on the nation’s largest and ering detailed information that explained howmost exceptional police department, the NYPD.3 Compstat worked at all levels of the police orga-To date, there has been little systematic analysis nization.of the elements of Compstat and their implemen- There are three primary reasons for selectingtation in smaller departments. This report, which the Lowell Police Department as a case study: (1)is an in-depth evaluation of how Compstat works Its high score on our national survey indicatedin a much smaller agency, the Lowell Police De- that it had fully implemented Compstat; (2) It hadpartment (LPD), is part of a project funded by the received considerable publicity as an innovativeNational Institute of Justice and conducted by the department under Davis’ leadership;4 and (3) ItPolice Foundation. In an earlier component of the was relatively small compared to most other de-project, “Compstat and Organizational Change: partments that had received publicity for their1. There is some disagreement about what the acronym “Compstat” actually means. Former NYPD police commissioner William Brattonsuggests that it stands for “computer-statistics meetings” (Bratton 1998, 233), but Silverman attributes its name to “compare Stats,” a computerfilename (Silverman 1999, 98). Some commentators have collapsed these interpretations and argue that Compstat refers to “computer comparisonstatistics” (U.S. National Agricultural Library 1998, http://www.nalusda.gov/pavnet/iag/cecompst.htm).2. Forty-two percent had not implemented a Compstat-like program. For the first detailed analysis on the extent of Compstat’s implementationby police departments across the country, see Compstat and Organizational Change: Findings from a National Survey, Weisburd et al., PoliceFoundation (2001).3. James L. Heskett, “NYPD New,” Harvard Business School Report no. N9–396–29 (April 1996); Eli Silverman, NYPD Battles Crime, NortheasternUniversity Press (1999); Phyllis McDonald, Sheldon Greenberg, and William J. Bratton, Managing Police Operations: Implementing the NYPDCrime Control Model Using COMPSTAT, Wadsworth Publishing Co. (2001); Vincent E. Henry, The COMPSTAT Paradigm: Management Accountabilityin Policing, Business, and the Public Sector, foreword by William J. Bratton, LooseLeaf Law Publications (2002).4. In May 2002, Superintendent Davis was awarded one of only two Leadership Awards by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) for hisrole “in bringing major changes in the department that greatly benefited the city.” In this context, Compstat was recognized as “an innovativecrime-tracking program” (Skruck, 2002). 1
  9. 9. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police DepartmentCompstat efforts, notably, New York City, Balti- Background on Lowellmore, New Orleans, Newark, and Philadelphia. and its policeThe last reason was the most compelling becausean examination of Lowell had potential to pro- The City of Lowell, Massachusetts, is located thirtyvide insights into the special challenges and op- miles northwest of Boston on the banks of theportunities that arise when small departments try Merrimack and Concord Rivers. Formerly a pow-to institute a program of organizational change erful center for U.S. textile production, Lowellthat originated in much larger agencies. On the began to decline during the Great Depression. Theone hand, smaller departments typically have city’s long slump came to a halt, however, whenfewer resources to mobilize for new tasks, pro- the late Senator Paul Tsongas spearheaded thegrams, and structures. On the other hand, they launch of the Lowell Plan in the early eighties.may find it easier to overcome some of the inter- The plan provides for a partnership between pub-nal resistance that is so endemic to large police lic and private sectors to encourage and guideorganizations (Mastrofski, Ritti, and Hoffmaster business development in the city. Its ultimate goals1987). What could Lowell’s experience with are to strike a balance between manufacturing andCompstat teach us and other researchers? knowledge-based industries and to create an at- This report serves three purposes: (1) to pro- tractive downtown that encourages use of publicvide a detailed description of Lowell’s Compstat spaces for civic, cultural, and recreational activi-program that should interest police chiefs and ties (Bluestone and Stevenson 2000, 54–56, 72).other police personnel who are curious about According to the 2000 census, Lowell hadCompstat; (2) to explain the benefits and chal- 105,167 residents within its fourteen square miles.lenges of implementing the various key elements The city is divided into several neighborhoods andof Compstat; and (3) to use our knowledge of is moderately diverse: 62.5 percent white, 16.5Lowell to provide some insights into Compstat’s percent Asian, 14.0 percent Latino, 3.5 percentfuture in law enforcement. black, 0.2 percent American Indian and Alaskan Compstat’s primary goal is to make police or- Native, and 3.3 percent other race or two or moreganizations more rational and responsive to man- races (U.S. Census Bureau 2002). Income levelsagement’s direction. The seven elements of Comp- for 2000 are currently unavailable, but in 1990stat had been discussed in the organizational Lowell’s median family income was $29,351, withdevelopment literature and used by numerous 18 percent of families living below the poverty line.police departments for many years before the The Lowell Plan envisions a thriving and livableNYPD launched its Compstat program. The city for the twenty-first century, and an importantNYPD’s contribution was to assemble these ele- element of this vision is a strong emphasis on con-ments into a coherent package (Weisburd et al. trolling crime and disorder. Since Edward F Davis .2001). According to Compstat’s principal propo- III became superintendent in 1995, Lowell hasnents, Compstat’s various elements interweave to increased the number of patrol officers from 159form a program with its own logical integrity and to 210, a 32 percent increase, and implemented ato make Compstat work like a well-oiled machine. nationally recognized community-policing pro-Indeed, Compstat as a crime-fighting tool is intu- gram. As part of a joint city government and com-itively appealing, with its use of sophisticated tech-nology for the timely identification of crime prob-lems and practice of holding middle managersaccountable for reducing them (Bratton 1998, Compstat’s primary goal is to233–39; Maple 1999, 31–33; Kelling and Sousa2001, 2–3; Silverman 1999, 97–124). Our exami- make police organizations morenation of Lowell’s Compstat, however, challenged rational and responsive tothe program’s accepted image as a smoothly func- management’s direction.tioning machine by revealing numerous paradoxesand incompatibilities among its various elements.2
  10. 10. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentmunity initiative, the department has established Lowell’s poor now reside, and the East, which cov-seven precinct stations and formed fourteen neigh- ered Lowell’s downtown and contained a large eld-borhood groups that meet regularly with police erly population. All of Lowell’s patrol officers wereofficers to identify their most pressing concerns assigned to a sector, aside from the handful thatand offer suggestions for their resolution. A com- covered various housing developments through-bination of efforts by city government, commu- out the city and were assigned to specialty posi-nity members, and local police led Lowell to win tions. As of August 2000, there were approxi-the prestigious “1999 All-America City Award” mately the same number of patrol officers in eachfrom the National Civic League in recognition of section, with forty-eight assigned to the North,“exemplary community problem solving.” fifty-one to the East, and fifty-two to the West. There were 260 sworn officers and approxi- In addition to the Operations Bureau, the de-mately eighty civilians in the Lowell Police De- partment was divided between an Investigative andpartment when we visited in 2000.5 In terms of its Prevention Bureau, also headed by a deputy, andorganization, the department consisted of an In- an Administrative Division that answered directlyvestigative and Prevention Bureau, an Operations to Davis. The Crime Prevention Division, EvidenceBureau, and an Administrative Division (see Ap- Response Division, Special Investigation Section,pendix I). The bureaus were each headed by a Criminal Investigation Section, and Legal Divisiondeputy superintendent, and the Administrative fell under the command of the deputy in chargeDivision was supervised directly by the superin- of the Investigative and Prevention Bureau. Finally,tendent. The city’s neighborhoods were divided the Administrative Division consisted of the Ac-into three sectors determined by both census block creditation Section, Budget and Finance Section,population and the presence of physical bound- Communications Section, Detail Section, Informa-aries, such as rivers and roads: North (Pawtucket- tion Technology Section, Intelligence Crime Analy-ville, Centralville, and Belvidere), East (Back Cen- sis Section, Professional Standards Section, Train-tral, Downtown, and South Lowell), and West ing Section, and Employees Assistance Section.(The Highlands and The Acre) (see Appendix II).These sectors or “service divisions” were underthe command of a sector captain and contained II. Overview of Compstatwithin the Operations Bureau, along with the at LowellTraffic Division, Headquarters Division, and Com-munity Response Division. The Merrimack and This section provides an overview of how Comp-Concord Rivers provided clear, natural bound- stat has operated in recent years. It introduces itsaries, with a major road further subdividing the major features and provides a reference point fromEast and West Sectors. The different sectors cov- which to assess how much Compstat has evolvedered approximately the same area, but their dif- since its inception. An in-depth discussion of theferent demographic groups and socioeconomic major features of Lowell’s Compstat program willstructures presented each sector captain with a appear in subsequent sections.unique set of problems. A department report, Superintendent Davis first implemented thebased on the 1990 census, indicated that the North existing format for a Compstat presentation onSector was the most populous with a population February 22, 2001. It calls for one of the threeof 40,635, followed closely by the West with a sector captains to be present at each biweeklypopulation of 40,442, and finally the East with a Compstat meeting and for data to be presentedpopulation of 22,617. In general, the North Sec- for all sectors over a six-week period. Meetingstor had the highest median family income of about take place on alternate Thursdays, when approxi-$35,000, compared to the West, where half of mately twenty to thirty members of the depart-5. In addition to the superintendent and the 210 line officers, there were two deputy superintendents, eight captains, thirteen lieutenants, andtwenty-six sergeants. 3
  11. 11. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentment’s top brass, plus a handful of invited guests, many agencies across the country, merely con-sergeants, and patrol officers, file into a large room ducted an annual review of local Part I crime ratesat Lowell’s Cross Point Training Facility. Davis sits collected in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reportsat one end of several tables that form an orderly (UCR). The purpose of this brief examination wasrectangle and is flanked on either side by mem- to provide the department with a general indica-bers of his command staff. He or one his deputies, tion of its overall success in controlling crimein his absence, begins the meeting at 9 a.m. with during the previous year. In contrast to this rela-some introductory comments. Then the lights dim tively narrow focus, Lowell’s Compstat programto focus attention on the lone figure of the sector plays a continuous and critical role in the depart-captain who stands in the front of the room. Mem- ment-wide process of identifying specific crimesbers of the Crime Analysis Unit (CAU) use laptop as soon as they emerge, driving decision making,computers to project crime data and maps onto a and facilitating problem-solving strategies.nearby screen, and over the course of the next two- Lowell’s CAU now inputs data on a daily basisand-a-half hours the sector captain, who is en- for a wide variety of crimes ranging from aggra-tirely responsible for the policing of his or her area vated assaults to traffic accidents. Some of theseof the city, reports on the sector’s crime incidents, data are made available via the mainframe to alltrends, and tactical responses. The sector captain department personnel, as well as through roll-callalso faces questions, suggestions, and comments announcements and a daily newsletter. The CAUfrom audience members. Typical remarks might also uses these data to prepare maps, spreadsheets,include: “What are you doing about motor vehicle and descriptive statistics, which are given to sec-breaks on East Street? They seem to be up from tor captains on the Monday before the Compstatthe last Compstat period;” “I have always felt that meeting. The presenting captain is then respon-traffic stops are useful for identifying potential sible for examining the detailed analysis for his orsuspects;” “Has anyone got any suggestions about her sector—a process that may take a period ofhow we should deal with this latest outbreak of several hours over the next few days—in order tograffiti in the downtown area?” prepare fully for Thursday’s meeting. In addition The multiple goals of this Compstat meeting to preparing for Compstat, Lowell’s sector captainsinclude eliciting collective input on crime patterns and their executive officers are responsible forand problem-solving strategies; encouraging in- accessing and reviewing all daily police reportsformation sharing on crime locations, victims, and from their sectors and for responding to crimesuspects; and facilitating the deployment of de- problems.partment resources. In addition, the forum acts as Before Compstat, the use of timely crime dataa mechanism for holding the sector captain ac- for the implementation of crime-reduction strate-countable for crime in his or her beat. Even though gies had no place in the organization and opera-conversation is shared around the room, the pri- tion of the LPD. The following section will exam-mary focus of audience members remains on the ine the factors that led to the formation of Lowell’ssector captain. Any failure to provide a satisfac- program. It will also show that departments cantory response to the various inquiries may lead to implement and adopt Compstat with a modesta rebuke from Davis. outlay of resources and can readily adapt it to work The Compstat presentation at Lowell is the within their existing organizational structures.end product of a lengthy process that begins when Hence, Compstat is not a program that is prohibi-an individual patrol officer files an incident re- tively expensive for small departments, nor doesport. Once this report is scanned into the depart- it require a great deal of organizational change.ment’s mainframe, the members of the CAU are Indeed, Compstat’s low cost and flexibility con-responsible for inputting relevant crime data into tributed to its rapid development within Lowell’sa database and using these data to aggregate, ana- relatively small police department.lyze, and map crime incidents. Prior to 1996, whenCompstat came to Lowell, crime analysis barelyexisted, since Lowell’s administration, like that of4
  12. 12. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department principles are most evident at the department’sIII. Origins and Development of regular, twice-weekly meetings where precinct Compstat at Lowell commanders tell top brass about ongoing crime problems and their efforts to address them. In itsOur examination of the implementation and de- use of these basic principles, Compstat representsvelopment of Lowell’s Compstat program reveals a transformation in police operations and man-several key points that are worth highlighting: (1) agement, as well as in attitudes toward the capac-Lowell’s program drew heavily on the NYPD ex- ity of law enforcement to influence crime ratesperience; (2) Nearly all of the impetus for its (McDonald et al. 2001).implementation came from Davis; (3) The super- According to our national survey, the NYPD’sintendent’s innovative reforms received strong experience has had a powerful impact on depart-political support from city hall, while external ments across the country, since about 70 percentgovernment grants enabled the initial formation of police departments with Compstat programsand rapid growth of the CAU; and (4) The Comp- reported attending a Compstat session in Newstat format has changed significantly in the few York City (Weisburd et al. 2001). The NYPD alsoyears since its inception. influenced Lowell’s implementation of Compstat as a result of a casual conversation that took placeThe influence of the NYPD between Davis and Bratton at a promotion cer- emony in New York during 1996. Bratton, as DavisDavis and his command staff tailored Compstat recalled, described Compstat as a useful way ofto suit their own department’s priorities but also bringing “a private sector mentality to the publicborrowed heavily from the NYPD’s program. Some sector,” and this remark made him eager to trybackground on the NYPD experience, therefore, out the program. Davis, as one officer remarked,will help frame our understanding of Lowell’s ef- “came back from one of his visits with Brattonforts. When William Bratton became commis- and said, ‘Let’s have a Compstat here.’” Shortlysioner of the NYPD, he sought to transform a slug- thereafter, he followed Bratton’s basic model, orgish, bureaucratic organization with demoralized “took stuff from their [New York’s] game planpersonnel into an outfit that responded keenly and book,” as another officer put it, and broughteffectively to crime problems. He did so by adopt- Compstat to Lowell.ing management principles advanced by organi-zational development experts, such as using data The role of the superintendentto make informed decisions, giving priority tooperational rather than administrative concerns, Davis’ brief encounter with Bratton in 1996 con-and holding key personnel accountable. Commis- vinced him to implement Compstat, but he hassioner Bratton, as a result, managed to “turn remarked that two other factors contributed to itsaround” the NYPD and reduce crime throughout development. Around the same time, he readthe city (Bratton 1998). James Heskett’s case study of the NYPD (1996) as The NYPD’s Compstat is a “strategic control a participant in the Senior Executives in State andsystem” that identifies and disseminates informa- Local Government Seminar at Harvard’s Kennedytion on crime problems and tracks efforts to ad- School of Government. Davis explained that thisdress them by implementing four basic principles: informative article gave him some ideas for(1) accurate and timely intelligence about crime Lowell’s Compstat program by emphasizing themade available to all levels in the organization; relationship between crime strategies and crime(2) the selection of the most effective tactics for statistics, as well as the value of breaking cities downspecific problems; (3) rapid deployment of people into sectors. He also recalled how a meeting withand resources to implement those tactics; and (4) Frank Hartmann at Harvard’s Senior Management“relentless” follow-up and assessment to learn Institute for Police underscored the value of data forwhat happened and make subsequent tactical ad- driving the decision-making process, a perspectivejustments as necessary (Bratton 1998, 224). These that mirrored his own organizational philosophy. 5
  13. 13. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department Convinced that Compstat would be a useful attributed the ultimate decision to a strategic plan-addition to the department, Davis ran the idea by ning process involving all his command staff. Hehis civilian staff and commanding officers during also noted that there was generally a lot of diffi-one of the department’s annual strategic planning culty getting officers to think geographically, de-retreats in late 1996. The retreat’s purpose was to spite command’s support for the change. Officerscontinue exploring the possibility of decentraliz- had mixed responses to the change, according toing the department geographically as part of a the recollection of one Lowell lieutenant:major transformation toward community polic-ing. The initial impetus for this move to commu- You know, you got a variety of responses at all levels. Some were kind of interested. A lot werenity policing had emerged from a 1994 strategic on the fence. And there were a few adamantlyplanning session. The department was still imple- opposed to any kind of change whatsoever,menting the strategic plan in 1996 when Davis who feel it’s just constitutionally wrong tosuggested that they implement Compstat. change (quoted in Thacher 1998, 35). Proponents of community policing argue thatpolice reform requires geographic decentralization Ultimately, the department moved toward aand devolution of decision making down the chain system that established three sector captains, orof command (Eck and Maguire 2000, 218). In “sector bosses” in department vernacular, each re-keeping with this school of thought, these factors, sponsible for a separate area of the city. In con-rather than the implementation of Compstat, trast to the decision to decentralize, no respon-drove Davis’ decision to reorganize the department dents, including Davis, remembered any resistanceunder the twenty-four-hour supervision of the within the department to the decision to imple-sector captain (Thacher 1998, 36). The creation ment Compstat. It seems likely that officers re-of this sector structure was certainly consistent garded the implementation of Compstat as a rela-with Compstat’s requirements, but the department tively minor event when compared to the large-went much further. Stating that one of the basic scale, structural transformation implied in thetenets of community policing was “one officer, one move to community policing. Since managementneighborhood,” Davis explained that assigning is structured geographically under both Compstatofficers to specific sectors encouraged them to get and community policing, Lowell’s Compstat pro-to know the residents on their beats and to be re- gram was easily adapted to the department’s pre-sponsive to community problems. He highlighted existing community-policing model. None ofthe importance of line officer decision making by those interviewed suggested that Compstat wascommenting that he wanted his patrol officers to revolutionary, and our overall impression was thatrecognize their responsibility for “their beat” and most remembered it as somewhat of a novelty.by quoting former LAPD chief Edward M. Davis,who talked about the significance of “territorial Government support—City Hallimperative.” Ironically enough, as we shall see, and the Office of Communitycommunity policing and Compstat operate at Oriented Policing Servicescross-purposes in relation to the decentralizationof command. Community policing delegates deci- In NYPD Battles Crime, Eli Silverman (1999, 181)sion-making authority as far down the chain of argues that a major factor in Compstat’s successcommand as possible, while Compstat concen- in New York was the strong “external backing” ittrates decision-making power among middle man- received from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Similarly,agers and holds them directly accountable to the Davis was appointed superintendent with thetop brass. Since district commanders are prima- staunch support of City Manager Richard Johnson,rily responsible for identifying and solving prob- the head and arguably most powerful member oflems, the capacity of the rank and file to exercise city hall. In contrast to New York, this politicaldiscretion is necessarily constrained. backing was based upon Davis’ ardent commit- Davis may have been the catalyst for decen- ment to community policing. Davis’ appointmenttralizing the organization geographically, but he in 1994 corresponded with federal passage of the6
  14. 14. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police DepartmentViolent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. patterns in the city by listing the location, address,The act provided for over $8 billion over a six- and time of calls to the police.year period to deploy 100,000 additional com- Since its first appointments in 1996, the CAUmunity-policing officers and also created the COPS has grown to five full-time members, three ofOffice to oversee the process and administer ex- whom have master’s degrees in criminal justice,tensive funding for nationwide implementation of and several student interns from local universi-community-policing programs (U.S. Department ties. Further financial support for full-time posi-of Justice 1994). Davis was able to use the new tions and for computer hardware and softwareresources earmarked for community policing to came from additional local, state, and federalimplement Compstat. The years 1994 and 1995, grants that were made available for communitytherefore, represented a “unique” opportunity for policing and problem-solving policing (Thacherhim, as he recalled, since he had both the power- 1998, 51). Clear indications that Compstat doesful support of city government and the sudden not require significant new resources are evidentavailability of considerable federal and state funds. in Davis’ decision to implement Compstat byIn addition, Davis and the department were gain- mobilizing the department’s existing personneling popularity with local residents who were and his use of available community-policing grantsthrilled when the city established its first com- to expand the CAU rapidly. Davis noted, “The costmunity-policing precinct in Centralville, a tough is mainly people” and estimated that it took onlyneighborhood in the North sector. $100,000 to hire four additional employees for the Davis reminisced fondly about this unique first year of the program (Anderson 2001, 5).political environment. He remembered watching Compstat’s relatively low cost and adaptability areSenator John Kerry at 3 a.m. on C-SPAN talking likely to contribute to its speedy adoption byabout the funds available through the 1994 crime smaller police departments across the nation, asbill, and he commented that any motion dealing our survey indicated. At the time of our survey, inwith crime that came before the city council 1999, only 11 percent of departments with be-around this time would pass by a wide margin of tween fifty and ninety-nine sworn officers hadeither seven to two or eight to one in the depart- implemented Compstat. The popularity of thement’s favor. As a further illustration of this po- program can be seen, however, by the fact that 30litical support, he noted that the department’s percent were planning to adopt it (Weisburd et al.budget had doubled in the five years between 1996 2001).and 2000 from $10 million to $20 million. Thissupport transferred into the “considerable leeway” Early Compstats—fuzzy memoriesthat the city granted Davis in the hiring process. and change The COPS Office contributed significantly tothe emergence and development of Compstat in Memories fade with time, and after the passage ofthe Lowell Police Department. To get Compstat several years, it is hardly surprising that individualoff the ground, Davis reassigned an input clerk, accounts of the first Compstat sessions at Lowellwho was already working in Records, and a patrol differ. Many people gave conflicting statements onofficer familiar with databases to form a new Crime whether Compstat was actually implementedAnalysis Unit. The creation of the first civilian sometime in 1996 or early in 1997 and how thecrime analyst position was supported through a first meetings were managed. Several of those in-COPS MORE grant (Thacher 1998, 51).6 Using terviewed remembered the early Compstats asComputer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) data, the being confrontational “pressure cookers” wherefledgling CAU prepared and disseminated simple Davis played the role of a “hard man” and putcrime sheets that helped identify crime trends and command staff “on the spot” by peppering them6. COPS MORE (Making Officer Redeployment Effective) grants were to help increase the amount of time officers could spend on communitypolicing by covering up to 75 percent of the total cost of technology, equipment, or civilian salaries for one year. 7
  15. 15. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department ing meaningful crime changes because the “qual- . . . Lowell’s Compstat program, which ity of analysis was lacking.” Ten days later the department implemented Lowell’s existing Comp- required little change to the existing stat with only one sector captain present at each organizational structure, has evolved meeting. considerably since its inception. IV. Research Methodswith questions about crime rates in their sectors. Between October 2000 and June 2001, we ob-One lieutenant recalled that what made Compstat served eight biweekly Compstat meetings andparticularly tough was “people did not know seven weekly operations meetings in Lowell. Wewhere they were going with it.” also conducted thirty-one formal interviews with Officers who attended the first Compstats also city and police department personnel including:gave varying accounts on the primary focus of the the mayor, city manager, superintendent, middlemeetings. Davis commented that initial Compstats managers or sector captains, civilian staff, captains,centered on “crime issues,” but other attendees lieutenants, detectives, first-line supervisors orremembered spending a significant amount of time sergeants, and patrol officers. We tried to gain thedealing with administrative concerns. One officer trust of department members by guaranteeingcommented that Compstat meetings often in- interviewees anonymity, whenever possible, andcluded discussions on the utility of decentraliz- by ensuring confidentiality through our uncondi-ing the entire department, including the Crimi- tional refusal to act as a conduit for informationnal Investigation Section. Another recalled that the within the department. Despite some initial sus-early Compstats were “very administrative and picion, most of those interviewed felt comfortablelargely concerned questions about the work de- enough to engage in lengthy and candid discus-tail and problems with manpower, while crime sions about Compstat. On average the interviewsonly occupied about 20 percent of the ‘talk time.’” lasted one-and-a-half to two hours, with many These accounts clearly indicate that Lowell’s running over the allotted time.Compstat program, which required little change We conducted six post-Compstat debriefings,to the existing organizational structure, has each lasting about fifteen to twenty minutes, inevolved considerably since its inception. When we order to help us identify the main crime problemsfirst arrived in October 2000, several captains and in each sector and track responses to these prob-members of the administrative staff had been dis- lems over time. We debriefed Davis or the deputycussing the possibility of changing a Compstat superintendent who ran Thursday’s biweeklyformat that had not been altered for two years. At Compstat meeting immediately after the meetingthe time, the three sector captains all presented and usually talked to the presenting sector cap-crime data on a biweekly basis. Unfortunately, by tains on the following Monday or Tuesday. Wethe time the third presenter walked to the podium, distributed surveys to 124 patrol officers in whichtwo to three hours had passed and members of we asked them to describe their involvement inthe audience were weary, having difficulty con- Compstat and their views of the program; and wecentrating, and less capable of providing useful collected ninety-seven completed surveys, yield-feedback on crime problems (the NYPD had ex- ing a response rate of 78 percent (See Appendixperienced a similar scheduling problem). On Feb- III). We also collected documents that could fur-ruary 12, 2001, Davis met with several of his com- ther our understanding of Compstat, including allmand staff and senior members of the CAU to the Compstat maps, spreadsheets, and crimediscuss some changes. He was concerned, as he analyses that were provided to sector captains;told them, that the sector captain who presented internal department memos; research grants; ar-last received short shrift and that the two-week ticles on Lowell; community handouts; and copiesreporting period might be too short for identify- of the department’s newsletter, the Daily Bulletin.8
  16. 16. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department We promised respondents that we would do clude specific terms, such as reducing crime byour best to conceal their identities. It was obviously 10 percent in a year, for which the organizationimpossible to guard against the identification of the and its leaders could be held accountable (Brattonsuperintendent of police, city manager and mayor, 1998, 252). The establishment of a mission state-as we made clear. It was also challenging in such ment, therefore, helps police agencies to functiona small police organization to protect the confi- more effectively by encouraging leaders and linedentiality of those who occupied the few special- officers to commit to a clearly defined goal, likeized and mid/upper-level management positions, crime reduction, that is highly valued by theespecially the sector captains. We consequently department’s leadership. Despite these seeminglydecided to omit identifying characteristics, such obvious benefits, our analysis of Lowell’s Compstatas a respondent’s ethnicity or number of years in program suggests that mission statements mightthe department, in our initial draft of this report. resonate differently with the public than they doWe also made a concerted effort in our final revi- with those inside the department. Furthermore,sion to identify and amend any text that could mission statements might present a set of chal-possibly breach a respondent’s confidentiality. lenges to police agencies with potentially negative outcomes. A mission statement that is inappro- priate, for instance, or exceeds the organization’s capacities might contribute to organizational dys-V. Analysis of Lowell’s function and ultimately undermine the police Experience with Compstat chief’s credibility if the agency fails to meet its stated goal.Using the seven key components we identified as Our general survey showed that 92 percent ofCompstat’s general framework, we compared large departments that had reported implement-Lowell’s Compstat program with data from our ing a Compstat program had also reported thatnational survey to help assess how typical Lowell’s they “set specific objectives in terms that couldprogram was of programs in other departments. be precisely measured.” In other words, a generalWe also used our qualitative data to assess the statement that clarified a department’s overall mis-dosage or amount of each element within the de- sion was closely associated with implementing apartment to determine the extent to which each Compstat program, and Lowell, in this sense, wasof Compstat’s key components had been institu- typical of other Compstat departments. The over-tionalized throughout the organization. We tried, all mission that it clearly promulgated in much offinally, to elucidate some of the problems associ- its literature and on its new Web site was: “To workated with Compstat by examining the challenges with the community to reduce crime, the fear ofthe department faced. This gave us some insights crime, and improve the quality of life in the Cityinto Compstat’s ability to operate as a coherent pro- of Lowell.”gram and a clearer sense of its long-term prospects. Compstat demands that departments establish a clear and specific organizational mission ratherMission Clarification than a general commitment to a broad set of ob- jectives. When our national survey asked, “In theThe first element of Compstat is mission clarifica- last twelve months has your agency publicly an-tion. Compstat assumes that police agencies must nounced a goal of reducing crime or some otherhave a clearly defined organizational mission in problem by a specific number?,” only 49 percentorder to function effectively. When Bratton assumed of departments responded in the affirmative, andcommand of the NYPD, one of top management’s almost a third of these departments reported fo-first tasks was to clarify a mission statement that cusing on “many different goals” (Weisburd et al.embodied the organization’s fundamental reason 2001). Since Lowell had announced a clearer andfor existing. In order to convey a clear sense of more specific goal—that of making Lowell thethe department’s commitment, top management safest city of its size in the United States—it wasreasoned that the mission statement should in- atypical of other Compstat departments. 9
  17. 17. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department When Davis was first appointed superinten- he believed that the “articulation” of this goal gavedent, he occasionally met with the late Senator momentum to the Davis’ overall plan to changePaul Tsongas, a resident of Lowell, who initially the department. He told us, “The safest city phrasesuggested that, “they come up with a vision for was what brought it all together.”the city.” He did not recall having a particularly Lowell’s mission statement differed from thatlengthy discussion with Tsongas on this topic but of the NYPD by not committing the departmentnoted that these meetings enabled them to create to reduce crime by a specific percentage. It alsothe goal of making Lowell “the safest city of its diverged from the NYPD by primarily targetingsize in the United States.” According to Davis, city residents. Commissioner Bratton used theTsongas believed it was important for them to ar- department’s mission statement to motivate po-ticulate a goal that would be clear to everyone and lice personnel and hold them accountable, whilehelp Lowell with its steep crime rate. Around 1995 this appeared to be a less important considerationto 1996, Davis told us earnestly, “Lowell was get- in Lowell. Davis was more concerned with theting beaten down,” and coming up with the goal mission statement’s appeal to external constitu-was about “more than just trying to make people ents than to department members, as another re-safer . . . the city’s future was hanging in the bal- spondent recalled: “It was really used for the ben-ance . . . [and] the goal gave people in the city efit of those outside of the department . . . it wassome hope.” Not only were city residents in crisis never used within the department . . . it was notin the early 1990s, so was the Lowell Police De- like the department rallied around it . . . the state-partment. Public confidence in the department had ment is not part of the guys’ [line officers] daily . . .deteriorated to the point that “the association of you know . . . what they talk about.”downtown businesses voted to hire private secu- Since Lowell’s broad mission statement wasrity to patrol Lowell’s rapidly deteriorating com- designed to appeal primarily to city residents, itsmercial district” (Thacher 1998, 9). implementation did not resonate quite so strongly Given that the mission statement’s intention within the police department. In contrast to awas to rally public support for a department that crime-reduction goal defined by a modest percent-seemed incapable of stemming crime in a danger- age over a finite period (a year, for example), theous city, it is not surprising that Davis and Tsongas’ adoption of such an ambitious and enduring goalproclamation was unburdened with technical de- as becoming “the safest city of its size in the Unitedtails and emboldened with powerful symbolism. States,” may have further mitigated its impactSimilar to the NYPD, crime reduction lay at the within the police organization—it was just tooheart of Davis’ mission for the department—a goal ambitious for police officers to incorporate withinthat he associated closely with Compstat. An im- their daily operations. One officer characterizedportant point to note: Davis stated that Compstat the statement as more of a slogan than a missionallowed one to examine data before making any because it was “not realistic,” and he embellisheddecisions. “If you approach problems any other his claim by comparing it to the New Englandway,” he commented, “you are allowing the ‘cause Patriot’s recent win in the 2002 Super Bowl: “Justdu jour’ to set your priorities when you should be like the Patriots winning the Super Bowl, sure,dealing with the crime rate” (emphasis added). they might have won . . . but now we expect themHowever, in contrast to the NYPD, the resolution to do it again . . . it is not a practical statement.”to make Lowell “the safest city of its size in the In using this analogy, he was drawing attention toUnited States” did not contain potentially confus- the unrealistic expectations conjured up by theing percentage reductions. Furthermore, it ap- “safest city” analogy and the fact that “crime can-pealed directly to residents by creating an attrac- not continue to drop forever.” The ambitious na-tive vision of Lowell as a pleasant or desirable place ture of the mission statement helped explain whyto live (again). One respondent stated that the the few times he heard reference to it within themission statement was a “big deal” and remem- department was when an officer at a crime scenebered that it was popular in the newspaper and joked: “Uh-huh . . . another murder in the safestamong community members. More importantly, city in America.”10
  18. 18. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department Some department personnel might then have cially in comparison to more ambiguous strate-regarded the mission statement as unrealistic, al- gies or programs that appear to challenge the ca-though our observations and survey data sug- nonical crime-fighting role of the police. Commu-gested that patrol officers did recognize and ac- nity policing, for example, has been the focus of acept the relationship between Compstat and the prodigious amount of scholarship over the lastdepartment’s approach to fighting crime. Even if twenty years, but its goal and key elements aremost doubted the practicality of the department’s still subject to much debate among police practi-“safest city” mission, they endorsed the focus of tioners and academics. What police department,the effort. One patrol officer described Compstat’s however, would not want to adopt a programexplicit focus on the identification of crime pat- whose clear purpose is to reduce crime throughterns by saying, “It enables the department to give the implementation of a well-defined set of tech-a focused effort on policing as opposed to hap- nologies and procedures? The appeal of Compstat’shazardly driving around in circles . . . it allows the crime-fighting goal to the police increases the like-department to focus on a specific area.” Results lihood that it will endure.from our patrol officer survey further supported There is an implicit and important consider-this observation that the rank and file clearly as- ation contained within the preceding comments about Compstat’s objective. What measures or benchmarks will the department use to evaluate What police department . . . would not its progress toward a specific goal? This became want to adopt a program whose clear an issue every October or November, when the FBI published its annual Uniform Crime Reports, purpose is to reduce crime through the and Lowell’s crime analysts examined the sixty-implementation of a well-defined set of two U.S. cities with populations between 95,000 technologies and procedures? and 100,000. Lowell’s analysts listed these cities alphabetically and used them to create a table, which they sent to Davis but not to the rest of thesociated the goal of crime reduction with Comp- department. Since the rankings were not dissemi-stat. Approximately 92 percent of those surveyed nated more widely, and we did not observe anyresponded that “reducing violent crime in the city” specific reference to the “safest city” goal duringand “improving the quality of life in the city” were our stay, it appeared that the table served prima-very or somewhat important to the department’s rily to give Davis an annual impression of howCompstat strategy. The power of Compstat’s im- Lowell was doing in relation to other cities of itsage as a crime-fighting tool is further reinforced size. In short, the “safest city” goal remained anwhen we consider that: (1) Davis did not devise a implicit rather than a highly visible element ofmission statement that explicitly defined Comp- daily operations. This does not mean that the goalstat’s goal but incorporated it within the depart- was merely symbolic, particularly since Davis de-ment’s goal of making Lowell the safest city of its scribed worrying about the extent to which thesize in the nation; and (2) The implementation of department was meeting its goal at every biweeklyCompstat was not accompanied by any depart- Compstat meeting. It may suggest, however, thatment-wide training. Despite the absence of these the six-year-old “safest city” imagery had becomemeans of fostering a shared understanding of so commonplace as to no longer provoke muchCompstat’s purpose, there was still a general con- interest within the department.sensus that Compstat was a means of refocusing Underlying the simplicity of the Compstatthe department’s energy on reducing crime. mission is a more complex set of challenges: What It seems likely that officers had a broad un- happens to Compstat when a police departmentderstanding that the fundamental objective of fails to meet the crime-reduction goal of its mis-Compstat was to control crime. The simplicity and sion? Will failure to meet the goal lead to cyni-long tradition of this goal in police departments cism both within and outside the department? Willhelps to explain the program’s popularity, espe- the end result be the termination of Compstat, as 11
  19. 19. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentcity residents and police officers question the value hiring of fifty-one new police officers, and it isof the entire program? this increase that might have contributed to the Tsongas and Davis were aware of the danger overall reduction in crime. Furthermore, Lowell’sof establishing a mission statement that set an recent crime increase appears to lend credence tounattainable benchmark for success. Davis com- a more cautious standpoint in attributing crimemented that in coming up with a vision for the reductions to the police in general or, more spe-department, he remembered thinking that the “saf- cifically, to Compstat. In Lowell, index crimes forest city” statement was “kind of reaching.” He 2001 increased 12.7 percent over 2000 (4,507 in-noted that even though he recognized that the dex crimes compared to 3,999). As a result of its“safest city” goal was ambitious, he felt it was tan- increasing crime rate, Lowell fell to the twenty-gible. They both believed, he said, “Lowell was a eighth safest city of its size in 2000.7 After a pe-place that they could get their hands around . . . riod of rapid decline, this reversal has been metthat there was real potential for serious gains.” The with some disquiet. In 2000, the local newspaperdepartment has indeed had considerable success reported, “If the past year is any indication, Supt.in achieving its goal, notwithstanding the risks Ed Davis and the Lowell Police Department willinvolved in setting such an ambitious benchmark have their work cut out for them in the next 12for success. For cities with populations between months” (Lowell Sun 2000).90,000 and 110,000, Lowell ranked the forty-fifth Whatever the causes for mounting crime rates,safest in 1993 and jumped to the fifteenth safest some evidence suggests that Davis was feelingin 1997. This drop in crime is among the reasons apprehensive as the local press reported on thewhy many police administrators and scholars con- slight upturn in crime. In a November 2000 inter-tinue to pay close attention to the department’s view he expressed concern that crime was risingachievements (Lehrer 2001). for the first time in six years, and by December Davis, who was reluctant to attribute the de- 2000 we overheard a comment that Davis was nowcline in crime to Compstat alone, cited three ad- paying for previous statements he had made inditional causes: an improving economy, an increase which he claimed credit for Lowell’s decliningin the length of jail sentences, and the efforts of crime rate. One respondent noted that the firstthe police. Public opinion, however, focused on response to any news of an increasing crime ratethe impact of Compstat, as shown in a newspaper was “damage control,” and he expressed disap-headline from October 1999 which reported that pointment that the department was not looking“Crime in Lowell Continues to Plummet” and at- at the 10 percent increase more critically and ask-tributed “much of the success in combating crime” ing questions such as, “What’s different from lastto “targeted policing through the Compstat pro- year; what’s happening nationally?” Two recentgram” (Iven 1999). This success, notwithstand- articles in the local paper also suggested that criti-ing, there is reason to be cautious about Compstat’s cism of Davis was becoming more acute. One re-ability to reduce crime. Silverman, like Kelling and marked that Davis’ reluctance to attend city coun-Sousa, has argued that the NYPD’s success in re- cil meetings appeared to reflect a lack of focus onducing crime was a direct result of its Compstat public safety issues (Scott 2002), while the otherprogram (Silverman 1999, 125–177; Kelling and expressed disappointment with the upward crimeSousa 2001, 2), but many criminologists remain trend given the department’s $20 million budgetunconvinced. Crime, they argue, is too complex a (Lowell Sun Online, April 4, 2002).phenomenon to be mitigated by any single ap- These comments illustrate the conflicting pres-proach (Bouza 1997; Eck and Maguire 2000; sures that Compstat imposes on police chiefs andHarcourt 2002). In Lowell’s case, the implemen- their departments. Compstat requires chiefs totation of Compstat roughly corresponded with the formulate highly visible, public mission statements7. According to the 2000 Uniform Crime Reports, Lowell experienced 3,803 Part I crimes per 100,000 people. In comparison, the crime rate forSimi Valley, CA, America’s safest city with a population between 90,000 and 110,000, was 1,441 per 100,000 people (US Department of Justice2001).12
  20. 20. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentthat set tangible organizational goals for reducing ment’s failure to live up to its goal—modify thecrime, as well as hold them and their departments mission statement. Davis suggested that this wasaccountable for meeting these standards. Increased currently happening at Lowell. He acknowledgedexpectations for lower crime rates, therefore, put that the department had recently experiencedpolice chiefs under considerable pressure to claim “some drawbacks with the crime rate,” and con-some responsibility and generate positive press for tinued to say, “Some people have come in andany successes. Absent convincing evidence that given a qualifier” to amend the mission statement.police departments possess the capacity to reduce He noted that it was important to take into ac-crime and that managers have the will and skill to count Lowell’s socioeconomic and demographicmobilize that capacity, setting a specific crime-re- characteristics in comparison to other cities, andduction goal is like a batter of untested capabili- he added that they were now referring to Lowellties pointing to center field each time he comes to as the “safest city of its size and type in the Unitedbat. This works only if he delivers a home run States” (emphasis added). Of course, the depart-more often than not. ment could decide to drop, rather than merely Mission statements can do more than create refine, its vision entirely, but this seemed veryunrealistic expectations; they can also be dysfunc- unlikely at Lowell. Davis said firmly that Lowell’stional in other ways. An increasing crime rate is “safest city” statement was still “vitally importantlikely to foster a great deal of public scrutiny and today.”concern over a department’s failure to fulfill itsgoals. The pressure that this places on a chief and Internal Accountabilityhis organization may provoke a knee-jerk reac-tion from the police (“damage control”) rather For a department’s mission statement to be effec-than a more thorough investigation of the crime tive, workers need to be held responsible for meet-increase. A chief will probably respond to this pres- ing the goals that the department espouses.sure by exhorting his officers to work harder. This, Compstat does this by holding operational com-in turn, might alienate managers and rank-and- manders accountable for knowing their command,file officers who feel the chief is blaming them for being well acquainted with its problems, and mea-crime problems that stem from factors beyond surably reducing them—or at least demonstrat-their control, such as poverty, drugs, and unem- ing a diligent effort to learn from the experience.ployment. Compstat, in short, makes someone responsible for Typical of such officers was one respondent tackling and reducing crime and imposes adversewho specifically noted the impact of broader struc- career consequences, such as removal from com-tural factors to support his earlier comments that mand, on those who fail to comply. In conductingthe department’s mission was not attainable in a our fieldwork, we discovered that accountabilitypractical sense: “There are cities of the same size, was experienced most intensely by district com-say in California, where people have much higher manders and far less so by those further down theincomes,” and it is consequently easier to control chain of command. In addition, our research re-crime. The department’s failure to achieve its goal, vealed the paradox that holding officers to a veryas we have seen, threatened to breed this type of high standard of accountability inhibited two othercynicism among civilians and department mem- Compstat components: Compstat’s ability to fa-bers who accused Davis, as the easiest target, of cilitate innovative problem solving through brain-disingenuously claiming responsibility for previ- storming and its capacity to reallocate resourcesous successes. In short, depending on the depart- to crime problems that most needed them, a com-ment’s capacity to meet its objectives, mission ponent we address more fully under the sectionstatements might motivate the organization to “Organizational Flexibility.” Finally, we discoveredsucceed or exacerbate its continuing failure to that there are two challenges to the potency ofmeet those same objectives. accountability’s ultimate threat to replace district These observations suggest an obvious means commanders for poor performance: (1) There mayof reducing the dissonance caused by a depart- only be a small pool of suitable replacements who 13
  21. 21. Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Departmentare willing or able to do the job of district com- sector captain responded that it prevented “slack-mander (this is particularly the case in smaller ing off.” Another sector captain noted that Comp-departments); and (2) Union and civil service re- stat was a way of “keeping them honest” sincequirements make it exceedingly difficult to remove “having things up there on a map can show youofficers for poor performance. how bad things are, and you cannot say, ‘Ooh, I Responses to our national survey and inten- missed those reports; I did not see them.’”sive site interviews suggested that departments These sector captains clearly recognized andthat have implemented a Compstat-like program accepted that Compstat held them accountable forconsider internal accountability to be a very im- all that occurred in their respective beats. Theirportant feature of Compstat. Almost seven in ten comments also brought out the central role thatof these departments told us that a district com- Compstat meetings played in fostering account-mander would be “somewhat” or “very likely” to ability by allowing Davis to visibly assert his lead-be replaced if he or she did not “know about the ership. Since all the command staff attended thecrime patterns” in his or her district. Almost eight biweekly meetings, Compstat provided Davis within ten of these departments told us, in turn, that a an ideal opportunity to display his authority andcommander of a specialized unit would be “some- hold his sector captains publicly responsible.what” or “very likely” to be replaced if he or she Compstat may provide a suitable venue, but ourregularly failed to fulfill requests for cooperation research suggests that the accountability mecha-from district commanders. A much smaller pro- nism also relies upon the leadership style of theportion of these departments reported that a dis- individual who runs Compstat.trict commander would be replaced simply if crime Davis’ leadership style, as observed at Lowell’scontinued to rise in a district. Few departments Compstat meetings, was to constantly ask ques-take this extreme position because Compstat gen- tions and make suggestions. Davis remarked thaterally requires commanders to be familiar with he was seeking to foster “data-driven decisionproblems and develop solutions to them but does making in a learning organization” by interrogat-not hold them too accountable for achieving out- ing his command staff about their responses tocomes that may be unresponsive to well-planned various crime problems and encouraging otherspolice interventions (Weisburd et al. 2001). to promulgate helpful solutions. In an interview Internal accountability was an integral part of with David Thacher (1998, 37), a researcher whoLowell’s Compstat program, as it was in many visited Lowell in 1997 as part of a national COPSother Compstat programs examined in our na- evaluation, Davis explained, “You have to be 90tional survey. In fact, Davis explicitly recognized percent a teacher when you have this job and that’sthe importance of this feature when he defined what I do.” He hopes that by asking people, “WhatCompstat as a means “to manage the police de- they’re working on and how they’ve come to thispartment in a timely manner with an eye toward conclusion . . . in front of people . . . eventuallyaccountability.” He was not alone in acknowledg- they’ll get the idea of it—that it’s their responsi-ing the value of this element, as the comments of bility.”other department members reveal. When asked In addition to promoting an information andwhat was particularly useful about Compstat, one data-driven environment, a chief can use Compstat as an arena to reward or punish his command staff in order to convey his expectations about accept- able performance. Holding command staff ac- Internal accountability was an countable for crime in their beats was a contro- integral part of Lowell’s . . . versial element of the NYPD Compstat program. program, as it was in many other There is a well-known story in police circles that during one Compstat meeting Jack Maple repeat- Compstat programs examined in edly flashed up a slide of Pinocchio while a mem- our national survey. ber of the command staff struggled to explain crime in his precinct (Maple later apologized). In14

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