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CompStat in the Los Angeles Police Department

Walt Schick, Captain and Commanding Officer of CompStat, Los Angeles Police Department

When former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton was sworn in as chief of police for the Los Angeles Police Department in October 2002, he faced a wide variety of problems inside the department and in the community. Quickly he assessed that the department was at odds with the community it served.

This contentious situation developed mainly because the community did not trust the police department. This severe lack of community trust in the police department was created in part by a breakdown in communication and sharing of information between the community and the police department. To win back the city's trust, Chief Bratton and the department put systems into place to create an organization where information and changes occurring in the department would be freely shared with the community and media. Opening up the organization and communicating with the media and the community is now building the bridges of trust in Los Angeles.

Risk Aversion
Many of the internal problems were caused by the department's culture of risk aversion and resistance to change. The attitude of risk aversion was the major catalyst leading to highly restrictive policies and procedures, which in turn resulted in low organizational performance, poor morale, and a corresponding decrease in proactive enforcement tactics and arrests. Significant increases in violent crime paralleled the development of the risk aversion attitude.

Although the personnel within the department were assessed to be highly qualified, educated, and displayed a solid work ethic, the organization had in many cases intentionally created performance barriers to avoid the potential of being second-guessed by the media and community. Chief Bratton assessed that the department was out of the game of apprehending criminals and community policing and was gauging its daily success on staying out of trouble and, more importantly, out of the headlines.

Making Change in LAPD
CompStat was instituted as the model for changing the risk aversion mentality and leading the department back into the business of proactive law enforcement while building a high-performance organization embracing change. The concept of using a crime control system to measure organizational performance and management effectiveness is not new to the LAPD. In 1998 a variation of the original CompStat crime control model, Fastrac, was implemented. Although Fastrac certainly had beneficial results, there were limitations, and the model did not achieve the goal of building a high-performance organization.

The Fastrac model attempted to focus the responsibility of combating crime on the leadership of commanding officers in the community police stations. However, a major limiting element of Fastrac was that the commanding officers were rarely, if ever, given the authority to implement nontraditional methods of deploying their resources. The Fastrac process also had the tendency to narrowly focus on specific crimes with little or no follow-up. There was no emphasis on identifying and targeting crime patterns and trends. Nearly always, once the questions had been answered, there was no follow-up and the issues were immediately forgotten. In other words, commanding officers were only responsible for answering questions on specific crimes during the monthly Fastrac meeting. There quite simply was no ownership for the crime problem in the city.

Clearly, a better process was needed that would elevate the acceptable standard of performance for not only the department as a whole but every LAPD employee as well. CompStat was the model implemented to get the LAPD back into the business of proactive law enforcement and a high-performance organization embracing change.

CompStat: The Change Agent
CompStat, short for "computer statistics" or "comparison statistics," is a multifaceted system for managing police operations with a proven track record in several major metropolitan police departments tracing its roots back to 1994 in the New York City Police Department (NYPD). In 1994 major changes were made in the management style of the NYPD. No longer was a centralized command-and-control the watchword and micromanagement from headquarters acceptable. Precinct commanders were granted latitude in managing their precincts, initiating their own crime control operations and making use of the resources available to them. Precinct commanders avoiding risk was no longer a formula for success. Instead, the department recognized and encouraged the positive efforts of the precinct commanders and their officers in reducing crime, disorder, and fear, and the department also measured their success.

Placing this requirement on precinct commanders necessitated a strong central strategic direction by the commissioner of the department and providing the means to achieve the goal. Direction to precinct commanders and their personnel was provided concerning what they ought to be doing to combat crime, disorder, and fear. For example, under the NYPD centralized control model only centralized units could conduct prostitution sweeps and execute search warrants. This management philosophy reflected a hesitance to trust precinct personnel to do their jobs. Under CompStat, policing was returned to the control of precincts, and uniformed officers could again do what they hadn't been allowed to do for more than 20 years. For instance, uniformed officers could now make drug arrests and assertively enforce quality-of-life laws. No broken window was to be overlooked.1

Key to providing the means to accomplishing the goal was timely crime statistics. In the past, crime statistics would lag behind the events for months and timely information about the success or failure of control initiatives was not available. To provide the means, daily turnaround in crime statistics was required. The best indicator of how the police were doing was by the crime statistics—precinct by precinct as well as citywide. Once the statistics were provided in a timely manner and their importance as a measurement of success was instituted, it was found that the NYPD commanders were giving attention to the crime statistics in the same manner that successful private corporations watch their profit and loss columns.

What Is CompStat?
Although there are many versions of CompStat, each is a system that identifies established and emerging crime trends for the efficient use of resource to target those trends. Crime statistics alone are not enough. CompStat requires law enforcement to think outside the box for solutions to issues, to question the status quo ensuring that policy, procedures, and tactics remain current. The process also demands meaningful internal and external communications, and it is necessary to embrace the use of technology.

CompStat is based on the long-held values of maximizing every asset of the organization and each individual employee. All employees, regardless of their position, are encouraged and empowered (and evaluated on their ability) to think of new ways of doing business in order to achieve significant results. In Los Angeles, results are now measured by reducing homicide and violent crime rates and the rebuilding of trust and cooperation in the communities.

CompStat goes to the core of the primary mission of any law enforcement agency: to reduce criminal activities. Four distinct principles provide a roadmap to get police officers back into the game of proactively fighting crime rather than just reacting to it. In addition, a vital component of CompStat that cannot be overemphasized is its focus on holding police managers directly accountable for combating the crime in their assigned area and providing them the authority to deploy their personnel resources to achieve the desired results. The four CompStat core principles are as follows.

Principle 1: Timely, Accurate Intelligence
Timely and accurate information and intelligence are absolutely essential in effectively responding to any problem or crisis. This need must be clearly stated when implementing a CompStat process, and most likely it will require a major change in the way a department manages its information technology. Accurate crime data is needed daily, not months after the events. The ability to more easily change its information management system is one advantage smaller agencies will have over larger departments when implementing a version of CompStat. In Los Angeles, timely information means

  • providing commanders, supervisors, and street officers with accurate information of when particular types of crimes are occurring;

  • pinpointing where the crimes are being committed;

  • establishing how the crimes are being committed; and

  • identifying who are committing the crimes.
Since today's policing techniques nearly always consist of vast amounts of information, it is necessary to provide a technique for sharing essential information effectively at all levels of the organization. For example, often detectives have information on suspects, but uniformed patrol officers who may be in contact with potential suspects have no idea what information detective personnel have or need to clear a case. Just as important, this principle also provides for an early warning system to identify emerging crime trends and patterns.

In today's environment of ever shrinking resources, being able to apply the necessary resources to an identified problem area is crucial in successfully reducing crime. Historically, marked police vehicles have been randomly deployed in the belief that potential criminals would be deterred by seeing the police vehicles on patrol. CompStat provides information and intelligence to direct police resources to the exact problem area—be it a crime hot spot or a developing crime pattern. In Los Angeles, police have found that the accuracy of the information is proportionate to the effectiveness of the police response. Without accurate information, the police response can only be based on the best instincts available.

Principle 2: Effective Tactics
Traditional policing tactics are directed at apprehending the suspect. While criminal apprehension is an important part of CompStat, it does not stop there. CompStat requires the police to give attention to the social and environmental situation that may be adding to or creating the problem. To develop effective tactics, it is required to

  • analyze the information;

  • evaluate possible tactics, considering what has worked in the past;

  • adopt tactics based on facts;

  • ensure the tactics are far-reaching enough to address all of the issues and to effect change, including social and environmental changes; and

  • develop tactics that are adaptable enabling adjustment to the shifting crime trends.
CompStat tactics encourage thinking outside the box and mandate that every resource, both internal and external, is considered when police respond to a problem. Just employing tactics that displaces the crime problem from one area to another is not acceptable. The tactics must be designed to bring about permanent change and often this will involve other agencies and organizations beyond the police. The police will focus on crime control, but involving other agencies and organizations to maintain the positive changes made is important.

CompStat tactics also provide for a sense of urgency in responding to problems. In LAPD, every case or call for service is to be handled as if it were a big case and is thoroughly, rapidly, and systematically investigated.

An important element of CompStat is the requirement that all units of the police department must work together. Traditionally, specialized units operated independently from other units and conducted police operations to achieve their own objectives. Under the old model, citywide specialized units have even worked in a station's area without the knowledge or support of the area commander or officers. In the CompStat model all units must be represented and held jointly responsibility for the successes and failures. The benefit is that much more creative and effective crime control measures are designed when all units develop and implement the strategy.

Principle 3: Rapid Deployment
For decades, police departments have been driven by calls for service and responded with limited resources in a reactive manner. With Compstat, the police department is now armed with vital information regarding emerging crime trends or patterns that allow for a proactive strategic police response. Once a tactical plan is developed it is necessary to organize and put into operation an assortment of personnel and resources. By being able to quickly organize and deploy resources in the field in a timely manner, the department is able to control the crime problem before it becomes a crisis. The Los Angeles experience has shown that

  • the most effective plans require several different units working together, and

  • the best results occur when patrol, investigators, and support personnel bring their capabilities to focus in a coordinated effort.
Police can respond to problems using many forms, including traditional uniformed or plainclothes officer response as well as nontraditional stings and decoys. By breaking down the barriers among the operating units, a new spirit of cooperation and working together materializes and enables the rapid deployment of resources. While many of the operational plans are conceived during the CompStat meetings, and an overall strategy guidance flows down to the districts, many of tactics and strategies actually flow up from the rank and file and supervisors. This enables replication of successful strategies and tactics citywide, and the line officer buy-in is quicker when they know an operational unit designed the strategy.

Principle 4: Relentless Follow-Up and Assessment
An essential element in any crucial operation is the need to critically assess past tactics and review what worked and what did not. One of the main differences between private enterprise and the public sector is the bottom line of positive returns. If a business implements an unsuccessful strategy or provides an unacceptable level of customer service, it is not long before it becomes a failed business. Much like a business, the bottom line with CompStat is results.

To properly implement CompStat it is essential to record data before and after the tactics have been deployed in terms of reports of crimes, arrests made, and results achieved. It is necessary to

  • assess the results from the tactics employed;

  • establish the validity of the tactic;

  • know how the tactic worked and state clearly which elements worked best, thereby allowing for the design of tactics addressing future crime problems; and

  • establish when the problem has been abated, allowing for the re-deployment of assets to the next crime problem.
Everything the police department does —administrative, operational, or investigative—is evaluated by the results achieved. Static operations that do not provide for successful results are immediately assessed for their value and changed to improve the overall operation of the department.

Operations–South Bureau
Within weeks of Chief Bratton's appointment, the CompStat crime control model was introduced in Operations–
South Bureau. Although the model is not yet fully operational because of personnel shortages and the delayed implementation of technology systems to rapidly capture, analyze, and disseminate statistical data, the early results have been promising.

The Operations–South Bureau of the LAPD, which encompasses more than 66 square miles and has an estimated population of nearly 700,000, has historically been the most violent crime area in greater Los Angeles. Since the implementation of the CompStat model, the South Bureau has experienced a 9 percent decrease in all violent crimes during the first seven months of 2003.

The largest decreases have been in homicides and aggravated assaults. Homicide has decreased 23 percent when compared to the year-to-date data from 2002 and aggravated assaults have decreased 10 percent. Just as significant are the decreases in robbery and rapes. Robbery has decreased 7 percent and rapes have decreased 15 percent.

The incident of shots being fired and victims of gunshots also have been drastically reduced. The incidents of shots fired were reduced by 25 percent, from1,932 incidents in 2002 to 1,458 in 2003 to date. There has been a corresponding decrease in the number of victims shot as well, from 899 in 2002 to 684 in 2003 to date, a 24 percent decrease.

Critics of the idea of getting police officers to have more contact with potential suspects of crimes are quick to point out the possibility of the increase in the number of violations of civil rights and potential liabilities to the city coffers as a result of law suits. However this has not been the case with the implementation of CompStat. During the first seven months of 2003, Operations–South Bureau police officers were involved in 17 percent fewer officer-involved shootings and experienced a decrease in complaints from the public by 18 percent.

Weekly CompStat Meetings
The CompStat measurements of performance are discussed at weekly meetings where area commanders have direct conversations with the executive staff of the department. A thorough review of the successes and failures of the station commander's efforts to reduce crime are discussed. These weekly CompStat meetings serve as a vehicle for executive staff to evaluate the station commanders overall performance and to provide the opportunity for follow up and assessment.

More importantly, the meetings serve to reaffirm responsibility and ownership of crime problems within the city. Each commanding officer has a weekly profile that presents current crime statistics, arrest numbers, and risk management data as well as statistics for the last eight weeks and the same period last year. In addition, all police field activities are captured and recorded into the database for analysis and are formatted into graphics that clearly show crime patterns and trends. The identified trends and patterns are discussed with the area commanders. They are expected to be aware of the emerging crime trend and have solutions.

Crime problems from previous CompStat meetings are continually discussed and monitored until the problem is eliminated. These meetings also provide a platform to discuss organizational obstacles that may be impeding the successful implementation of reducing crime and present new nontraditional ideas or solutions directly to the executive staff.

Transferability of CompStat
The CompStat process for crime control is not unnecessarily difficult or complex and can be implemented in any size organization. In smaller agencies a lap top computer or even manual systems to track crime is all that is required. In larger agencies, the capabilities of existing technology are only limited by budgetary restrictions. Several software companies now offer off the shelf mapping and analytical programs. However, no matter how sophisticated the software may become, the bottom line always remains providing timely and accurate information with regards to emerging crime trends and patterns.

In the more developed stages of CompStat, other areas of management effectiveness are examined. Areas such as risk management including vehicular pursuits, use of force incidents, personnel complaints and response time are only a few. Again, this evolution does not necessarily require additional upgrades or enhancements to the basic CompStat computer operating systems as long as the information captured can be analyzed and used to evaluate the effectiveness of the employee, manager, or department.

1James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, "The Police and Neighborhood Safety," The Atlantic (March 1982): 29-38. This article popularized the broken windows theory of crime's relationship to disorder: "If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. . . . One unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing" (page 31).

Los Angeles police officers use CompStat maps like these to plot the location of reported crimes and police activities in a particular area during a particular time--in this case, gang-related crimes and narcotics arrests in the Rampart area during the period beginning June 22 and ending July 19, 2003.

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From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 1, January 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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