Jack Maple: Betting on Intelligence

Former NYPD map master Jack Maple puts his money where his crime stats are.

by / March 31, 1999 0
Short of stature -- about 5-foot-7 -- and rotund, 46-year-old Jack Maple is given to wearing two-tone shoes, striped shirts, bow-ties and a homburg hat. But don't let his taste in clothing fool you. He cut his stylistic teeth in New York City's hot lunch spots, while cutting his professional teeth underground, in what New York's finest derisively refer to as the caves.

The caves are the New York subways -- once considered as dangerous a place as any in the world. In the 1980s, Maple was an aggressive transit cop who moved up to the rank of transit lieutenant. When he got tired of responding to crime instead of fighting it, he went home and put his unschooled but analytical mind to work.

"I called them the Charts of the Future. On 55 feet of wall space, I mapped every train station in New York City and every train," Maple recently explained. "Then I used crayons to mark every violent crime, robbery and grand larceny that occurred. I mapped the solved vs. the unsolved."

Later, when William Bratton was hired by the Transit Police to cut crime, Maple showed him the charts, and between 1990 and 1992 they cut felonies in the caves by 27 percent and robberies by a third.

In 1994, when Bratton was appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to head the NYPD, the new commissioner made the flamboyant Maple his second-in-command. The move, likened to promoting a Navy ensign to admiral, ruffled many feathers. But using computerized Charts of the Future, precinct commanders were held accountable for crimes in their area. For the first time that anyone could remember, crime in New York City began to decline.

COMSTAT was born. COMSTAT is a process by which crime statistics are collected, computerized, mapped and disseminated quickly. Officers are held responsible for the crime in their areas, and all crimes, including the "quality of life" infractions like loitering or public intoxication, are pursued aggressively. The program has become the talk of squad rooms nationwide.

Today, Maple is a high-paid consultant, with his partner John Linder, being hired by major cities, including New Orleans, Birmingham, Ala., Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., and Jackson, Miss., to break the grip of criminals. In every case, they are seeing results similar to those in New York City, while other communities are adapting the process without Maple's help.

Still, there are detractors who claim COMSTAT's dramatic success in what was once the country's most corrupt and dangerous city has more to do with a decline in the numbers of juveniles nationwide, heavy-handed prosecution policies and the increase in the number of cops on the street, than with Maple's computerized strategies.

For those detractors, Maple provided a typically direct answer and a challenge.

Q: A lot of people don't want to give COMSTAT full credit for the dramatic decline in crime rates in New York City. What is your response?

A: Across the nation, murder is down 21 percent. In New York, murder is down 70 percent. Everyone thinks crime is down a lot in America. Well, guess what? Across the nation, with New York removed, crime is down 8 percent. Whoopee. In 1961, murder, rape and robbery was 158 per 100,000. Now it is 570 per 100,000 -- three-and-a-half times higher. Sometimes people build a fool's paradise.

The juvenile population from 1990 till now went up in New York. They have their statistics wrong, as usual. Between 1980 and 1990, while crime was going up, the juvenile population went down. In the 1990s, when we were implementing COMSTAT, it was the opposite. So they don't know what they're talking about. And I'd like to know how demographics change within a single year. In 1995, New York City accounted for 68 percent of the crime decline in America, even though they only have 3.3 percent of the crime.

When the ball went down in Times Square on New Year's Eve 1994, did all the 15-year-olds suddenly turn 50? Was there a mass exodus of juveniles overnight? They are uninformed.

I would be very happy to go into any city in the world with my partner, and any of the naysayers that have the guts can advise the chief of the department on half the city, with any of the commanders they want under them, and we will take the other half and advise them there. I'll put up $100,000 of my own personal money against theirs that our strategies will reduce crime dramatically more. We'll see where the crime goes down. The winner can donate the money to the widows and orphans fund. I'll go up against any takers.

Q:How much credit do you give the whole COMSTAT process?

A: Let's say crime is going down, on its own, by 2 or 3 percent. COMSTAT will make it go down 15 percent. Let's say crime is going up by 20 percent all over. COMSTAT will keep it to 2 or 3 percent. The more intel you have, the better deployed you are, and if you hold people accountable, crime will go down.

Q: You pretty much created COMSTAT.

A: Yes, that's correct. COMSTAT can be boiled down to four fundamental principles:

1.Accurate, timely intelligence clearly communicated to all.
2.A rapid deployment that is concentrated, synchronized and focused.
3. Effective tactics and strategies.
4. Relentless follow-up and assessment.

Now what does No. 1 mean in the police world? It means that you have to get the crimes every day, the day they happen, and you've got to map them. You've got to map them in every precinct, every district, every squad room. Then everybody has to know about it.

The narcotics people have to know about the murders, the detectives have to know where the crack houses are, everybody needs to know where the fences [who move stolen merchandise] are, where the chop shops are, where the quality-of-life problems are happening. Then you map everything.

You need to map the parolees. For instance, in New York there are 48,000 people on parole at any given time. About 4,500 of them have a warrant on them at any given time. You've got to map them. There are nonparolees with warrants on them. You have to map them.

Q: How does this change traditional policing?

A: One of the big problems in policing is, for example, you call up the police department and say there are two guys on the corner dealing drugs. They send a radio car. The guys see the radio car and what do they do? They step back into the doorway. The radio car keeps going. In police work, nobody memorializes that complaint. It drops right off the CAD screen. What should happen is that those complaints should go to narcotics in the local district or precinct to be worked on to see if it's a chronic condition.

That is why you hear people say that they keep calling and calling and calling, and the cops never do anything. It is because that simple complaint is never memorialized and the cops, from one day to the next, don't see that it is a chronic condition.

So you have to map everything, even the simple complaints. You map where the schools are, where the parks are, where the kids hold drag races, the prostitution places. Then you take those maps and lay them over each other; you do overlays.

Q: How does the mapping help?

A: The beauty of the mapping is that it poses the question, "Why?" What are the underlying causes of why there is a certain cluster of crime in a particular place. Is there a shopping center here? Is that why we have a lot of pickpockets and robberies? Is there a school here? Is that why we have a problem at three o'clock? Is there an abandoned house nearby? Is that why there is crack-dealing on the corner?

By looking at this, you can figure out where you need to be and when. You can figure out what time the pickpockets are working. You can look at stolen cars -- where they are being stolen from and where they are being recovered. If only the bones are being found, you know there is a chop shop nearby.

A map can give you all this. Then you can start looking at patterns and chronic conditions.

Q: Is this what you are doing in New Orleans?

A: Yes -- accurate and timely intelligence clearly communicated to all. New Orleans now has a Web site. They put a map out every week. They have all the crimes for the week, every district, on the map.

Q: And this is more than just the COMSTAT meetings; it is public access, right?

A: Public access. Accurate and timely intelligence communicated to all. They put homicides year-to-date, they put shootings year-to-date, they put stranger rapes year-to-date, solved versus unsolved crimes, and more.

Q: Back to your list. What's next?

A: The next thing is rapid deployment that is concentrated, focused and synchronized. So now you want to look at your intel and deploy your forces accordingly. Where are we going to put the patrolmen? Are they best on foot, on bicycle or in a patrol car? Where are we going to put the detectives?

The third thing is tactics and strategies. Are we going to do buy-and-busts? Are we going to do warrant enforcement? Are there a bunch of wanted warrants with addresses in a certain area where there have been a series of crimes? Are we going to do a decoy operation because there is a particular pattern where the thieves are hitting Hasidic Jewish people on their way home?

Q: Is that enough?

A: No. The final step is relentless follow-up and assessment. That process means that, when you do make an arrest, you have to be committed to the strategy of having the detectives debrief every offender you arrest.

Since the detectives now have the maps in their room because of accurate timely intelligence, they are not only going to try and solve this particular crime, but we are going to see if they can be linked to other crimes we have mapped.

Q: So the intelligence is the key to everything?

A: Yes, and no city is completely there yet. In addition to maps, you should have all stolen property in a computer database. If the cop just arrested Jack Maple for [urinating] in the street and he sees I am wearing a Rolex watch, he should be able to put that serial number in the computer and find out if it's stolen. In most cities in the nation, you can't do that. For instance, in Philadelphia, pawn shop records are collected by hand and thrown in a box. What good does that do you? We've got computers, now we have to use them.

You should be able to use computers to correlate the person you are talking to with other kinds of data. For instance: A detective is interviewing Jack Maple. You should be able to put Maple's name in a computer and find out how many times he has been a witness, how many times was he a complainant, was he ever in a car accident, has he ever been a perpetrator. Wouldn't it be something if you punched in the name and found out that Jack Maple has never been arrested, he has never been convicted of a crime, but he has been a witness to 11 narcotics murders? Wouldn't you want to know that?

Right now there is no police department that has anything that can do that. The technology is there.

Q: There are a lot of issues that hinder departments from getting to this ideal. How can they overcome those challenges?

A: Well, first, you need Operations dictating to the MIS department what the real needs of the department are. You can't have MIS going out to a glorified Tupperware party, buying the latest, coolest, sexiest computer and software. You are better off with easy-to-use, off-the-shelf software that fits within a plan.

Q: What about turf issues? Law enforcement professionals are well known for drawing turf lines and protecting them at all costs. How do you maintain an accurate and timely flow of information if division commanders guard that data jealously?

A:If you have turf issues like that, you murder who is in command of that division and you don't have the turf issues anymore. It is right out of Sun Tsu (The Art of War). Sun Tsu wants to be the general, so he goes before the emperor with a battalion of concubines. Sun Tsu says, "Forward march," and they giggle at him. So he beheads the squad leaders and puts new ones in charge. When he says, "Forward march," again they do it.

We know that people are territorial, but you want them territorial to a region, not a function. You want them to be proprietary about their precinct, to feel responsibility for the crimes that occur in their area.

Q: You advocate accountability for the people in charge of the precincts. Why is that so important?

A: At the weekly COMSTAT meetings, you have the heads from every precinct and division. You put all the intel up on huge maps where everybody can see it, and you start asking them what is going on with the crimes or patterns in their area. You hold them responsible. You ask tough questions. No one is in trouble because there is crime, they are in big trouble if they have no idea what the crime is, they cannot tell you where the crimes are and they don't have a plan to deal with it.

It is a four-level process, with chiefs and deputy chiefs being held accountable. Then they hold the borough commander accountable and they in turn question the precinct commander. The next level is the precinct supervisors, and finally the sergeant saying, "Maple, tell us about the last 10 robberies on the post. Jones, you think that's funny? Tell us about the last 10 burglaries on yours."

Q: Can the numbers be fudged to protect an officer's career?

A: You have to have a quality-assurance squad that makes sure the intelligence is accurate. You can do this by matching up the data they are giving with the CAD [Computer Aided Dispatch] printout every day. Also, the quality assurance team needs to regularly go out and do relentless audits, and chiefs of police should regularly call in a couple of phony radio runs and see how they show up in crime reports. Then you make commanders review and sign every report that comes in. If they say the don't have time, then what the hell business are they in? If they have stocks, they read the Journal every day. They've got the time.

Q: What particular strategies can make an immediate difference?

A: One of the most important things we did in New York was what I call quality-of-life enforcement. Zero tolerance. Traditionally, if you had 10 guys hanging out on a corner drinking, they might be given a ticket or just moved along. These guys would take that ticket and use it as toilet paper. But if you have a computer in the car, you can use the quality-of-life crime to run these guys.

Some may have warrants, some may be on parole and you can get them for hanging out with known offenders. If they say they have no ID, you take them in until you know who they are. If you check them out and they are not on parole or have no wants or warrants, you give them the ticket for drinking in public and let them go on. But maybe out of 10 you find five with various violations. Then you take those five in to be debriefed by detectives. These are your off-duty crooks; you can get on to other crimes and accomplices. It is like pulling a loose thread on a sweater -- you can unravel a major crime from these quality-of-life crimes.

This works in the rougher neighborhoods well. It is one strategy. There is no single strategy that works for all. You have to use a variety of strategies, but when cops do this, they can see why they are doing what they are doing and how it fits into the patterns of crimes.

Q: You have said you think mapping makes policing more egalitarian. What do you mean?

A: In the old way of policing, the poor people got [underserved], but maps don't know the difference between a poor person and a rich person. The dots are the same size regardless. A robbery is a robbery. Those 10 dots tell you where to put your cops. The dots don't say, "This affected Donald Trump; it's a press case." That is one beauty of mapping.

If you go by the maps, you see where the crime is and you deploy there. That crime goes down. Then those people that need the help the most get the best service.

Q: How important is it to get the information out to the public as well as the cops?

A: It is imperative. In New Orleans, where they had the biggest crime decline in 1996, in murder, rapes, robberies and assaults, of any city in the nation. It went down again in 1997 and 1998.

It is very important to get that information out to the public. Newspapers should print the maps every day. The community has a right to use crime stats to make decisions on how they get home from work, where they are going to live, where their kids are going to play. It also gives them the knowledge they need to help law enforcement and to hold law enforcement accountable. They have a right to know what the solve rate is. That is why [New Orleans Police] Chief Richard Pennington puts all his solved rates up -- he knows that sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Q: What is the next step? What is the future for COMSTAT?

A: This should not be limited to the police department. It should involve every city agency, the fire department, the building department, the transportation department; everybody should be contributing and coordinating. And other law enforcement agencies need to participate fully. The FBI, DEA and ATF offices in a city should be running their own numbers and then bringing those to COMSTAT meetings at the police department.

Q: Of course, now we are back to those traditional turf issues, right?

A: Yes. That's why the chief needs to be out there schmoozing them. Then, if needed, twist their arms. There are children dying in the streets because law enforcement agencies don't want to get along. This is obscene.




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Justice and Technology Editor Ray Dussault is also a research director for the Law Enforcement Technology Acquisition Project. Email