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Why A Broad Daylight Stabbing In Manhattan May Show You're Not Quite As Safe As You Think

"Crime statistics are very unreliable" says criminal statistics expert

By: JAMES FORD

pix11.com | @jamesfordtv

12:13 AM EDT, July 19, 2012

NEW YORK (PIX 11)

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As a young woman recovers from wounds she received after being stabbed and sprayed with a chemical in a random daylight robbery in one of New York's safest precincts, the question arises that if she could become a victim, could anyone?  The answer, based on official NYPD numbers, is that it's possible.

However, an analysis of the official crime numbers by the country's most extensive crime statistics researchers provides a reason to take more precautions than you otherwise might.

Sabatha Tirado, 25, had just left her bank near the intersection of 2nd Avenue and 86th Street around 10:30 Tuesday morning when Curtis Forteau, 29, attacked her with a knife, according to police, who said he stabbed her in the stomach and doused her with an unknown liquid when she refused to give up her purse.

Forteau is now in custody, charged with the crimes, and the Upper East Side intersection where cops say he attacked Tirado appeared to be back to normal on Wednesday, or so people who spoke with PIX11 News felt.

"I feel generally safe," Magda Hemmer, a nearby resident, said, "But of course bad things happen."  In her part of the city, the Upper East Side, things are safe by most accounts, even though bad things do happen.  The neighborhood is home to some of the highest income zip codes in the country, and most people PIX11 encountered on Wednesday afternoon said they don't normally feel threatened.

"On the street," a man who said he'd lived at 84th and 2nd Ave. for 30 years said, "This is to me the safest place to walk around in the entire city."

Some of the foremost researchers on NYPD crime statistics agreed, but said that's no reason to assume the situation is as safe as the police department says it is.  "We don't say there's a need to fear," Eli Silverman, PhD, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice told PIX11 News, "But we are saying this method interferes with effective crimefighting."

He was referring to the way in which New York City police officers and supervisors compile and report crime statistics, a system called Comp Stat.  Prof. Silverman, along with his colleague John Eterno, PhD, a professor of criminology at Molloy College who is himself a former NYPD captain, literally wrote the book on NYPD crime statistics, an exhaustive study called The Crime Numbers Game:  Management By Manipulation.                                  .  

In their work, they surveyed nearly 2,000 recently and not-so-recently retired officers, from beat cops to chiefs, about how they report crimes.  According NYPD Comp Stat, the official tally of serious crimes citywide, felony assaults like the one that Sabatha Tirado was a victim of have increased this year by about 1.8 percent.  In the 19th precinct, on the Upper East Side, where Tirado was attacked, there has been a 1.7 percent increase in felony assaults this year.

The 19th precinct had four stabbings this year through July 15, prior to Tirado's being attacked.  Citywide, there were 2,096 according to the NYPD.  However, the expert on the crime numbers say the statistics don't tell the full story.

"Crime statistics are very unreliable," Prof. Silverman told PIX11 News.  He said that officers are pressured to downplay the severity of crimes in order to make it appear that conditions are somewhat safer, and that police are more effective than they are.

"They move felony assault into lower catego[ries] which are mostly misdemeanors, which they don't have to publicly report, Silverman said, adding, "The problem is that because of pressure from headquarters, [police] are violating the very principles on which effective crimefighting is based."

He said that he has documented multiple cases of officers being ordered to categorize crimes as less severe than they are.  The effect, Silverman said, is that the department ends up not putting crimefighting resources in places where they're needed, because the official figures show they're not needed, even though there may actually be a serious risk of crime.

The NYPD has long stood by its Comp Stat figures, and the crime numbers experts agree with the department's statistics generally. However, the full accuracy of the city's figures are called into question by the professors who have studied them closely for decades.

"Crime has gone down over the last 15 to 20 years, we're not disputing that," Silverman said, but he cautioned, "People... need to be aware that what they see in terms of official statistics is not accurate, and that's a real dilemma."