By Murray Weiss
DNAinfo Contributing Columnist
There is an old saying about the accuracy of crime statistics: “You can’t hide the bodies.”
The maxim is meant to show that regardless of any debate about the veracity of the NYPD figures the police can’t fudge on the number of people murdered in New York City. That may not be such good news these days considering the number of murders in New York is up nearly 15.4 percent so far this year, with Manhattan reporting an increase of about 28 percent.
But there is a growing concern about other crime categories that can be manipulated. A precinct commander in Brooklyn and four other cops recently were charged by the department in connection with fudging numbers at the 81st Precinct. The allegation began with a cop who taped his supervisors at roll calls. He was eventually forcibly taken by other cops to a psyche ward.
Critics say it took a lot of outside pressure from the media to get the NYPD to take action against the Brooklyn commander. They claim there is such fierce pressure from City Hall and the top of Police Headquarters on supervisors to keep the historic crime declines at 1960s levels that officers feel compelled to downgrade crimes whenever they can – or else.
On the margins, that means when a victim reports that they have been robbed, cops allegedly try to turn it into a larceny or lost property case, or turn a felony assault into a misdemeanor. You hear occasional complaints from tourists in lower Manhattan to residents in Washington Heights. But the suspicion of any systemic problem is vigorously denied by the NYPD. The rumblings of its existence, however, have picked up steam in recent years.
I heard about one case, and I repeat it here publicly because I know the source, where a man was found nearly unconscious coming out of a subway stairwell in a downtown Manhattan last year. The patrol cops got him up. The “alleged victim,” who was from the Bronx, claimed he had been assaulted, but could not remember much else. The cops, however, suggested he could have just as easily fallen down the stairs on his own.
There was no canvassing for witnesses. No crime scene established. No talking to train employees. Not even a cheap investigative tactic from CSI or some other cheesy cop program. The “alleged victim” did not appear to be in bad shape, and the cop sent him on his merry way, with barely an incident logged in the officers’ books.
Problem was the “alleged victim” took his sore head back to the Bronx, where he was found a day or two later by relative in his apartment: dead. The last time I checked on the case the trail was colder than the victim, thanks largely to the initial police work, or lack of it.
Maybe those officers were just lazy, or made a bad call. It’s just as likely they were responding to pressure from above to avoid another crime stat.
I can say with certainty that the recent disciplinary move in Brooklyn went through the NYPD ranks like a cold brisk wind.
“I think everyone has been scared straight,” one of the sharpest veterans in the NYPD told me. Perhaps the cops realize that their jobs may be at stake now every time they take a crime report. “If they can destroy a commander, they will destroy you,” another veteran explained.
So here's the way to look at this.
The police force is down to about 35,000 cops from a high of 42,000. The brass are spending overtime galore to keep a police presence on the streets. The economy remains anemic with too many unemployed.
So if the cops were fudging numbers on a broader level citywide and they now stop, the new more accurate reporting will certainly add to an upward trend in Manhattan and across the city.
And that reminds me of yet another old police saying: “You live by statistics . . . you die by statistics.”