DAVID GREENE, HOST:
One of the nation's most influential police chiefs is stepping down today. William Bratton is retiring from the NYPD, and yesterday, he was participating in one final crime stat meeting at police headquarters in Manhattan. WNYC's Robert Lewis was there.
ROBERT LEWIS, BYLINE: It sounds obvious now - police departments using computer statistics to help fight crime. The idea summons an image of commanders in a large room sweating through an explanation of numbers in their precincts under the withering gaze of higher-ups. But it wasn't that long ago when police didn't even bother to track neighborhood crime. NYPD Commissioner William Bratton is widely recognized as the man who changed that and forever changed policing nationwide. And so it was that a hundred New York City police leaders crammed into a conference room at NYPD headquarters on Bratton's last full day running the department. Chief of Department James O'Neill, the man who will be taking over, was the emcee.
JAMES O'NEILL: Give us a little overview of what's happening in the Bronx.
LEWIS: Assistant Chief Larry Nikunen, commander of patrol borough Bronx, steps to a podium.
LARRY NIKUNEN: We had a couple of rough weeks where we were up a little bit, but we've stabilized it again.
LEWIS: For the next few hours, they will go through crime stats in the Bronx block by block. It's the weekly CompStat meeting, named after the computerized system Bratton pioneered at the NYPD in 1994. He told the assembled brass about the origins.
WILLIAM BRATTON: The process of CompStat was actually created back in the 1970s with mapping that I did as a young lieutenant in the Boston Police Department, huge maps with little dots put on those maps, every night via clerk, on the crime reports of that day.
LEWIS: The process was computerized in the 1990s, and CompStat was born. Though not solely responsible, it coincided with a staggering drop in crime. There were more than 2,200 murders in New York City in 1990 and half that in 1995. But advocates in recent years have accused Bratton of ushering in an era where the focus on numbers led to aggressive over-policing in communities of color nationwide. Eli Silverman is a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
ELI SILVERMAN: In some places and under some administrations, the system metastasized and was turned on its head.
LEWIS: Large numbers of arrests became measures of success. But he says it's wrong to blame Bratton for the unrest New York City and the rest of the country have seen in recent years.
SILVERMAN: He planted the seeds, true, but they were valuable seeds. Any innovation has the potential for disuse.
LEWIS: Nowadays, Bratton talks about precision policing, the ability to use data and analyze trends to decide where aggressive enforcement is appropriate, like targeting gangs. At his final CompStat, he told the NYPD commanders he looked forward to retiring in the safest big city in America. For NPR News, I'm Robert Lewis in New York.
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