In the early 1990s the rising crime rates and the spiraling costs of maintaining the police force in New York City prompted the leadership of the city’s police force to look for new alternatives to handling these issues. It was from the necessity caused by rising crime and rising costs that the CompStat model was born. As Henry (n.d.) describes it, the goals of the city’s leadership were to bring “crime and disorder to within manageable bounds and to refocus the NYPD on its primary mission of effectively ensuring public safety by reducing crime and violence.” The CompStat model, as it was first implemented, involved the use of statistical analysis and the development of more effective and accountable management to ensure that resources were used efficiently and that the police force focused on the city’s most pressing issues. Since 1994, when New York City began using the CompStat model, crime rates have dropped significantly; since then, police forces around the country have begun to use CompStat models and other similar approaches to address their own individual concerns. This paper will examine the basics of the CompState model and will also discuss its potential applicability to smaller agencies, with an eye towards a determination as to whether CompStat is as appropriate for implementation in smaller agencies as it is in those of larger metropolitan areas such as New York City.
CompStat Model: Overview
CompStat is, in brief, a management system for police departments. It incorporates the use of statistics related to crime and disorder, strategic problem-solving, and management accountability (UMD, n.d.). Analysis of statistical data and other information is ideally done quickly, and the results of such regular analyses and informational audits allows police forces to make rapid, efficient, and effective decisions about the use of resources, deployment of personnel, and the implementation of action plans. Accountability is at the core of CompStat; such accountability ensures that analytical results are acted upon quickly and also ensures that the relative successes or failures of such actions are properly assessed for use in future decision-making (Henry, n.d.). Properly implemented, CompStat offers a flexible, dynamic, and responsive approach to policing that uses resources efficiently and achieves positive results.
CompStat: Core Principles
As a management system for police departments, CompStat is not just a set of plans or guidelines for such management; it is also a conceptual model that requires a new philosophical or ideological approach to policing. The purposes of CompStat are to gather information, to use this information to make decisions, and to ensure accountability for these decisions. CompStat is based on four core principles: taken as a whole, they are relatively simple and straightforward; in practical terms, however, they guide the entire range of decision-making and activity of the police force. The flexibility of CompStat helps departments move away from a top-down decision-making model and towards a model where managers and decision-makers at all levels are responsible and accountable for making decisions based on the effective analysis of available information and the efficient use of resources and personnel. Following are the core principles of CompStat:
- Timely and Accurate Intelligence
Gathering data in real time (or as close to real time as possible) is at the heart of CompStat (Godown, 2013). Some of the key areas where such data is derived are the major categories of crime that must routinely be reported to the F.B.I. Crime Reporting Program. Such categories of crime include criminal homicide, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson (Godown). A range of other data from other sources is also available for use in CompStat, such as the information gathered in arrest reports and other field reports, calls to emergency services, and information acquired during interviews with witnesses and suspects. These and other forms and sources of data are complied, compared, and analyzed quickly for the purpose of making informed decisions.
CompStat also offers routine auditing of management issues, the use of IT information systems, and other process-oriented sources of data that support the overall CompStat model.
- Effective Tactics
Former NYPD Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple, who helped design CompStat for the NYPD, describes this component of CompStat as “having a plan” (n.d.). Before effective tactics can be developed and implemented, it is necessary to examine and understand the data and information acquired under the first CompStat principle. Accountability is key in this principle, as command officers and department heads must make decisions based on the available intelligence that are effective and appropriate. Maple further asserts that decision-makers must “think outside the box” when make decisions (n.d.). By pinpointing and addressing ongoing problems and other areas of concerns raised by the intelligence, decision-makers can work to solve those problems; without accurate data, such planning can be ineffective. It is imperative that department heads and commanding officers manage and utilize resources effectively, which is only possible when the most significant and pressing problems are identified.
- Rapid Deployment
What makes CompStat more than just a conceptual model is that the information gathered during the first stage can be used to make decisions rapidly and in real time. Commanders analyze the data, make decisions and determinations about strategy and tactics, and then implement those tactics quickly. Because police cannot be everywhere at all times, it is important that commanders be able to identify problems and respond to those problems as rapidly as possible; this is, in effect, the next best thing to having a police officer “on every corner” (Godown). This approach to deployment is used to target “regular, recurring crime patterns, clusters, series, and hot spots” (Godown). By deploying resources and personnel when and where they are most needed, police forces can contain crimes and other problems before they can grow, spread, or move to other areas. This model of rapid deployment also helps police departments contain costs by planning the use of personnel more effectively and efficiently, driving down overtime costs and other poor uses of funds and resources.
- Relentless Follow-Up and Assessment
According to Maple, “you can only expect what you inspect” (n.d.). This principle of CompStat feeds directly back into the first principle. It is not just imperative that police departments gather intelligence and information related to crime statistics; they must also routinely and regularly monitor and audit the decisions made by commanders and department heads (DeLorenzi, 2006). The decisions made about the use of resources and personnel are compared to the results produced by these decisions to determine if such decisions were effective and efficient, or of resources could have or should have been deployed and utilized in different ways. Again, the key factor is accountability: it is not just important to make quick decisions; it is also important that those decisions achieve the best possible results.
Determinations about the success of any particular decision, or of the overall successes of a department or an entire force, are not just measured in terms of crime statistics. The goal of any department is not only to reduce crime, but to do so as efficiently as possible. The auditing and monitoring of department resources such as overtime pay, the safe and cost-effective use of vehicles and other equipment, and other such factors are all parts of this fourth principle. It is also necessary to monitor management standards, incident reports, citizen complaints, disciplinary actions, and other management-centric functions of the department to ensure that best practices are followed at all levels and at all times (Godown).
One other principle that is discussed in some of the literature about CompStat is that of identifying areas of improvement. This fifth principle is integral to the implementation of the CompStat model, as it allows decision-makers to focus on those problems that are of most concern to the department and the people it serves.
CompStat in Practice
Although CompStat is an inherently data-drive enterprise, it places equal (or perhaps even greater) significance on the human side of the equation. One of the most important components of an effectice CompStat model is the CompStat meeting. It is during CompStat meetings that decisions are reviewed and accountability is addressed. DeLorenzi (2006) describes CompStat as a “strategic control system” of management, and the effective review of strategy is at least as important as the planning of strategy. If a decision or series of decisions did not achieve the desired outcome, it is important to know why so that similar shortcomings can be avoided in the future. In the article “The CompStat Process: Managing Performance on the Pathway to Leadership,” the CompStat model is described as follows:
Collect, analyze, and map crime data and other essential police performance measures on a regular basis, and hold police managers accountable for their performance as measured by these data. (DeLorenzi, 2006)
It is during CompStat meetings that “participants exchange ideas, share details about promising practices, praise subordinates, collectively develop plans, and promote an environment where new leaders can flourish” (DeLorenzi). CompStat meetings offer the opportunity to analyze data for use in planning strategy and to review how data was used for previous decision-making. If the CompStat model is designed like a loop where information feeds into the implementation of process and back again, it is the CompStat meeting that is both the start point and the end point of that loop.
By many accounts, the implementation of CompStat has led to a marked decrease in crime rates in New York City, and has also been praised by proponents as an effective way to reduce costs and manage operations more efficiently. Because CompStat is particularly data-intensive, the proper implementation of the CompStat model does require the use of appropriate computer, software systems, and other technology, and also requires effective training of management and other personnel. Smaller departments may have some concerns about the costs of implementing and maintaining a CompStat model, though CompStat and similar models are now in use in approximately one-third of U.S. police departments with 100 or more employees. Moreover, use of the CompStat model continues to grow, and appears to be the new standard in law enforcement management, thereby making it an increasingly desirable approach for departments who wish to adhere to the current paradigm in law enforcement.
In a report entitled “CompStat for Smaller Departments” (Dorriety, 2006) the question of whether a program that worked for the NYPD can be adapted for use in smaller departments. The report concludes that it is both possible and practical to implement CompStat on a smaller scale. One important consideration is that smaller departments will have a smaller amount of data and intelligence to analyze, and in many instances it is possible to achieve results in a single meeting for a smaller department that would require multiple or concurrent meetings for a larger department. Investments for equipment and training in smaller departments are also typically less expensive and less time-consuming. Upfront costs for implementing CompStat in smaller departments can, in many cases, be recouped over time as more efficient uses of resources save departments money in the long-term.
One approach to implementing CompStat in a smaller agency involves the development of a CompStat team that operates parallel to the ongoing activities of the agency (Dorriety). This team can begin to establish the frameworks of the CompStat model while the rest of the agency maintains its usual activities without disruption. The CompStat team trains department heads in how to gather and report the appropriate data, and the team develops a system that can be implemented smoothly over a longer amount of time so that the transition to the CompStat model does not come at the cost of interrupting the agency’s normal duties. The cost of the appropriate software needed to implement CompStat is now relatively inexpensive, and many useful programs (such as spreadsheet and worksheet programs) are likely already available for most departments. It may be useful or even necessary for a department to hire a specialist to oversee the creation and operation of the CompStat team during the transition, though the expense of this hiring may also be recouped with savings from the long-term advantages of efficient resource deployment.
Based on the success reported by the NYPD and police departments around the nation, the CompStat model and similar approaches to law enforcement management appear to have established a new paradigm. The benefits as measured in lowered crime rates and more efficient uses of resources offer significant advantages over many earlier, less-efficient policing models. CompStat offers a model wherein decision-making is based on intelligence and data, and the results of such decisions are audited to shape the course of future decision-making processes. Police departments with as few as 100 officers have successfully demonstrated the viability of CompStat, and any department that feels it has areas in which it could improve should consider the idea of implementing this model.
DeLorenzi, D. (2006, September). The CompStat Process: Managing Performance on the Pathway to Leadership. Retrieved from www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=998&issue_id=92006
Dorriety, J. (2005). CompStat for smaller departments. Law & Order, 53(6), 100-105.
Godown, J. (2009, August). The CompStat Process: Four Principles for Managing Crime Reduction. Retrieved from www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=1859&issue_id=82009
Henry, V. E. (n.d.). MANAGING CRIME AND QUALITY OF LIFE USING COMPSTAT: SPECIFIC ISSUES IN IMPLEMENTATION AND PRACTICE. Retrieved from http://www.unafei.or.jp/english/pdf/RS_No68/No68_12VE_Henry2.pdf
Maple, J. (n.d.). Slide 5. Retrieved from http://www.wright.edu/cupa/citistat/img4.html
Pew Charitable Trusts (2007, July). You Get What You Measure: Compstat for Community Corrections. Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/sentencing_and_corrections/corrections-measurement.pdf
To Compstat or not to Compstat « JusticeGuy. (2010, August 11). Retrieved from http://www.justiceguy.com/?p=43
University of Maryland (n.d.). What is CompStat? – COMPSTAT.UMD.EDU. Retrieved from http://www.compstat.umd.edu/what_is_cs.php