The Tyranny of Comstat

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Late as always, I recently came upon the story of an NYPD precinct in Brooklyn, where the commanding officer was taped repeatedly ordering his subordinates to either arrest or ticket American citizens for the sole purpose of juking statistics. That alone is bad enough. But in playing with the numbers, the officers inadvertently aided the rampage of a serial rapist in Bed-Stuy. You can listen to episode of This American Life, here. Or read about it in the Village Voice here.


I was really disturbed by this story. I've seen reports of stop and frisk and racial bias for months now and tuned them out. If blacks and Latinos commit most of the crimes, it stands to reason they'll be overrepresented among the stop and frisks. Except that this isn't about fighting crime. It's about harassing the weak, in order to uphold the strong. I'm ashamed, now, that I ignored those reports.

My son is approaching an age where conversations about the police are becoming essential. I do not want to burden him with my old ways. But I would not be doing my job, as a parent, if I did not educate him as to the nature of police power in this country. 

We live in a city where officers gun down innocent black men, and on any claim of fearing for their lives, return to work. We live in a city where officers arrest black people, without even writing in charges, in order to please a computer program. We live in a city where honest officers who dare oppose the program, are thrown in psych wards, and when released, stalked hundreds of miles upstate, while those caught red-handed are transferred to the Bronx.

These are facts. A department claiming that "most" of its officers don't make false arrests, is a bistro claiming that "most" of its chefs don't spit in the food, or a hotel claiming that "most" of its rooms don't have rats. 

What apologists for cops never understand is that each one of these stories is an assault on the brand. It undermines their credibility, and ultimately their job. It is thus, all to predictable to realize that rotten cops are not merely rotten at relating to the community, they are rotten at their jobs. They are rotten at fighting crime.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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