CompStat vs. community policing - Page 2

Proposed ballot measure triggers debate over what principles should guide SFPD

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CompStat creates maps generated by crime data in San Francisco, but some say there's more to policing than studying numbers

But CompStat programs often lack sustained commitment to building relationships with neighborhoods.

"Compstat seemed to engender a pattern of organizational response to crime spikes in hot spots that was analogous to the Whack-a-Mole game found at fairs and carnivals," argued a 2003 study commissioned by the national Police Foundation titled "CompStat in Practice: An in-depth Analysis of Three Cities."

The study found immediate contradictions in Lowell, Mass.; Minneapolis, and Newark, N.J. between beat officers' new responsibility to "simply follow their superiors' orders" and the community policing model that cast them as individual, authoritative protectors of their neighborhoods. CompStat centralizes authority with the higher echelons of SFPD. It includes bimonthly meetings in which station captains are grilled by SFPD brass and are expected to answer for the statistics in their district.

"Given the gap between the two models of policing, CompStat naturally tends to encounter the greatest resistance in departments that are most committed to community policing," the study found.

Understaffed and poorly trained crime analysis units tasked with deciphering data patterns into useful correlations (for example, between drug crimes and murder) was another barrier to the success of CompStat outlined in the study. SFPD's crime analysis unit consists of three civilians housed at the Hall of Justice, SFPD spokesperson Lt. Lyn Tomioka told us. They are not deployed to district stations and are supervised by a lieutenant who also has other responsibilities.

"There are a lot of rough edges. There's a lot of non-fit there," Zimring told the Guardian. "Who sets the priorities? CompStat priorities are always crime prevention, and they are set, and tactics are provided, by the chief of police. He is, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, 'the decider.' Community policing is supposed to be more cooperative and organic."

Gascón initiated CompStat in San Francisco in October 2009, although Mayor Gavin Newsom has been touting the CompStat model since he first ran for mayor in 2003, when a campaign policy brief gushed about its "accurate and timely intelligence, rapid deployment, effective tactics, and relentless follow-up and assessment." Initially, however, SFPD only took baby steps, using a confusing plot system to map crimes. That changed when Gascón took over as police chief last August, bringing experience in the program with him from the Los Angeles Police Department.

SFPD officials say vendor contract costs to start the system's electronic crime mapping were less than $1 million, and an additional $1 million has been proposed for next year's budget for technology upgrades in the CompStat unit. But the numbers so far haven't backed up the boldest claims. SFPD reports 24 homicides this year as of June 12, up 20 percent from last year's rate for early June. Homicide arrests are down from 12 last year to eight this year. Occurrences of rape are also up by 12 percent, but overall violent crime is down 2 percent compared to this time last year.

Gascón wrote that foot patrols are a valuable tool for community policing in San Francisco, but he doesn't want to be forced to maintain them with limited staffing. Newsom's proposed budget maintains current SFPD staffing, 2,317 sworn officers, while many other city departments received deep staffing cuts. Progressive supervisors have pledged to closely scrutinize SFPD'S budget.

Community policing was law enforcement's response to civil unrest in the 1960s and '70s, when police were seen as the enforcers of institutional power.