Compstat emerged in the mid-90s as a nifty computerized tool designed to track the most serious crimes in New York City.
Initial Compstat meetings found New York's finest analyzing statistics from the most serious crimes and plotting them electronically on a computer screen to determine patterns and trends. A cluster of dots in a particular location alerted officers to a string of murders, rapes or robberies.
Since then the Compstat (computer statistics) program has taken over the New York City Police Department. "Compstat itself is a mover of the entire agency," said Garry McCarthy, deputy commissioner of operations.
McCarthy describes the program as a mechanism to hold people accountable, an information-sharing forum, an information-gathering forum and an educational forum all in one. It has evolved to become a general business-management tool for the agency.
The program originally focused on seven major crime categories, but now records information on more than 700 of what officials call "performance indicators." These indicators measure the performance of the agency and identify areas where improvement is needed.
As it did initially, Compstat still tracks the major crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, felony assault and grand larceny. Now the program also tracks shooting incidents and tracks arrests by bureau and arresting officer.
The program reaches further by tracking relatively minor crimes, including prostitution, panhandling, excessive noise, public drinking and a multitude of other minor violations, which are fed into a computer and analyzed.
In fact, nothing is outside the scope of the program as officials keep track of police overtime, allegations by citizens of police abuse, even things like how quickly it takes to get a police vehicle back from repair, and maintenance of police buildings. Commanders log deficiencies in building maintenance to detect trends then invite the folks from building maintenance to a Compstat meeting to discuss the trend.
"We figure that things like morale impact on the ethics of the officers," McCarthy said. "Therefore, we work on morale by working on the condition of the station houses where the officers work."
All the information goes into reports called Compstat books. These collated reports are comprised of data forwarded from each of the 76 precincts in the state that are analyzed by McCarthy and the rest of the Compstat Unit, which consists of about 25 officers. Each of the reports is available on a citywide database.
There are two groups that make up the Compstat Unit. McCarthy heads a staff of about 15 that analyze statistics. There is another group of up to 10 people that work for the commissioner and help gather statistics for the Compstat books. Additionally, there are three to five officers in each precinct who help with the collection of information.
The Compstat Book
Compstat helps develop the four principles that govern the agency: timely and accurate intelligence; rapid deployment; effective tactics; and relentless follow-up and assessment.
All of the information gathered and analyzed is used to facilitate those four principles.
All of the information that comprises the Compstat book helps the Compstat Unit determine trends or deficiencies within each precinct. It is then determined which precinct commanders will be called into a Compstat meeting to discuss what can be done about any problems.
"I'll kind of script the entire Compstat meeting and then sit down and go over the whole thing with the chief beforehand," McCarthy said. "He'll make some changes, add some things he wants to do. We've been doing this for two years so we're pretty hand-in-glove.
"It's a strategy session, it's an information sharing-session and it's an accountability session," said McCarthy. "We're accountable to the public for our statistics because each one of those statistics is a person."
The data on each precinct is separated