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Cracking Crime Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 22:10 GMT 23:10 UK
Fighting crime the US way
Dramatic results were achieved with CompStat
A pioneering scheme in the US could soon help slash crime figures in the UK.

Crime statistics there have fallen since police forces across the country adopted a system used first in New York.

In 1993, 11,976 crimes were recorded by the city's Police department.

By 1997 that figure had fallen dramatically to 5,527 - a reduction of over 50%.

Similar results were recorded throughout the whole of the New York Police Department.

The NYPD, and its Chief of Police John Timoney had begun a system of recording, tracking and mapping all crime virtually as it happened.

This was run in conjunction with a tough new regime, making district police commanders answerable for crime on their patch.


The system was known as CompStat or Computer Comparison Statistics.

New computer software in use was producing weekly crime statistics for small geographical areas.

The new strategy seemed to galvanise officers
These figures were examined in detail at public weekly meetings where department chiefs questioned colleagues on their investigations.

The new strategy appeared to have a galvanising effect on officers and produced more focused policing.

It was soon adopted across the US with similar dramatic results.

Detailed statistics

CompStat details each crime in terms of when, where and what kind of crime is taking place.

Although not entirely about figures, the statistics are of great importance.

The detailed information enables police chiefs to plan officer deployment to combat each area's most pressing needs.

Several US states now publish weekly crime figures and comparisons with previous weeks and years.

The measurement of success or failure is therefore instant and transparent.

UK figures

Crime figures in the UK are only published annually. Although some police forces do collate weekly figures, they are not published.

Many politicians have suggested bringing the CompStat system to the UK in an effort to reduce crime here.

And British police are open to new ideas. Thames Valley is a police force with a reputation for forward-thinking.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul West was asked if he and a local commander would like to examine the CompStat system in action and then try it out in one of their regions.

The Philadelphia experiment

After some discussion it was agreed he and Oxford Area Commander Dave McWhirter, would visit Philadelphia.

Publicity about CompStat's success has centred on New York.

But Philadelphia also had success with the system, not least because Chief of Police John Timoney went on to work there.

Although keen to find out more, the British officers did not expect to be impressed.

British Police have always been held accountable for crime figures, whereas in the US accountability has only recently been introduced.

The difference in culture was also debated. It was suggested public weekly grilling suited the outgoing, garrulous Americans but was less appropriate for British police.

However, after witnessing the system in action and subjecting their US counterparts to tough questioning, it was decided there were aspects of the system they would adopt.

But it is not a one-way street. The Philadelphia cops were also impressed by the British way of doing things - and are planning on making a few changes of their own.

The Philadelphia Experiment is on BBC One on 18 September at 9:30 pm.

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