The Next Step in Accountability Driven Leadership: “CompStating” the CompStat Data

There can be little debate that CompStat processes in police agencies across the United States have revolutionized crime fighting and made communities safer. For more than a decade, these innovations have brought about greatly enhanced accountability and empowerment to police officers at the neighborhood level. But CompStat is not without its critics and detractors, including some who allege that the reported crime reductions are a result of “cooking the books.” As CompStat has evolved over the years, the next logical step is to identify aggressive and thorough ways to analyze the outcomes of a department’s use of data to ensure its integrity, reliability, and validity.1 By “CompStating” the CompStat data, police executives can bring into play powerful tools that protect the integrity of crime data and, most importantly, the integrity of the agency as a whole.

For all the positive attributes of CompStat, there have been unfortunate examples in some jurisdictions where allegations of “numbers fixing” or crime data falsification have been found to be valid. The refrain among those who shun the accountability that professionally led CompStat, or accountability-driven leadership, can bring has been unrelenting: field commanders are under unrealistic pressure to reduce crime; therefore, their only option is to manipulate the data. There is an equally powerful group that believes for academic, political, social, or economic reasons—that police cannot make a difference in crime; therefore, any reduction in reported crime must be artificial. When these two forces are combined, they create a perfect media storm directed straight at those who embrace the CompStat philosophy. Unfortunately, the few examples of unethical behavior by a handful of departments add even more fuel to this fire.

Further complicating this debate is that there are many different sources of data concerning crime in the United States—another prime opportunity to “cloud the issue.” It is clear that when the public and the media are educated to understand the differences between Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the National Incident-Based Reporting System, and the National Crime Victimization Survey, the perceptions of inaccurate reporting can be ameliorated. Thus police chiefs should be very aggressive in explaining these differences to internal and external audiences.