By Murray Weiss
DNAinfo Contributing Columnist
The biggest crime story in New York City today is whether the NYPD has been fudging crime stats to enable the mayor to continue to boast that the Big Apple remains the safest big city in the country.
Buffeted by critics and a few whistle-blowers, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has pulled an effective public relations arrow from his quiver by appointing a three-member panel to study the issue.
If there is bad news to come, he has positioned himself ahead of it. If there isn't, then he can take credit for his willingness — albeit very late in the controversy — to allow the matter to be aired out.
"The integrity of our crime reporting system is of the utmost importance to the department," the commissioner said in his State of the NYPD speech.
"It is essential not only for maintaining the confidence of the people we serve, but reliable crime statistics are necessary for effective planning and evaluation of crime reduction strategies."
Let’s face it: There is little doubt that at the margins crime statistics have been fudged. There has been too much pressure from the top brass down through the rank and file for it not to have happened. And Kelly's panel may actually be able to find a quantitative way to show it.
But the more challenging question is whether the public has been discouraged from reporting crimes in the first place. From City Hall and Police Plaza directives to precinct roll calls, cops receive the not-so-subtle message that the city wants crime to go down at almost any cost. Not having a crime reported at all is a way to do that.
Compare it to writing parking tickets, moving violations and traffic infractions. Precinct commanders laud aggressive patrol cops who write summonses, and some union officials claim there are, in fact, ticket quotas. But the opposite seems true for taking crime reports.
"The problem is that the citizen who wants to report a crime is seen as someone who is bringing in a problem . . . rather than being seen as a citizen who has problem," said one veteran familiar with the problem. "And that mentality discourages a report from being taken."
NYPD officials have defended the department against allegations of fudging, insisting the NYPD's Quality Assurance Controls and Investigations personnel catch the problems when they occur, which they say happens an estimated 1.6 percent of the hundreds of thousands of complaints.
Kelly has said in his speech that cases that were not properly recorded have been "thoroughly investigated and rectified, and that appropriate disciplinary action has been taken," including demoting guilty cops. He also insisted those cases were the exceptions rather than the rule.
But it's still cheating, the NYPD veteran said. "And it's really hard to catch something in an audit that is not being reported in the first place."
I thank The New York Times for virtually reprinting a column of mine on their front page Wednesday, repeating what I wrote two weeks ago that the feds and prosecutors have no evidence of a job slowdown or crime in the botched Christmas blizzard cleanup.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.