This federally funded report provides an in-depth evaluation of the Compstat information and management tool implemented in Massachusetts’ Lowell Police Department.
Compstat is the systematic use of data and heightened accountability to reduce crime. Compstat was first implemented in 1994 by the New York Police Department (NYPD). Compstat’s primary goal is to make police organizations more rational and responsive to management direction. NYPD’s intent was to create a simple database with information about the major crimes that cities must report to the FBI. However, the database became an elaborate program where police entered crime reports into a computer system that sorted them by type. Officers than began scrutinizing the statistics to create maps and charts to show notable changes and emerging problem areas. Advocates claim that Compstat has spurred the development of innovative, local, crime-fighting strategies and improved public safety. The Lowell Police Department (LPD) in Massachusetts, which had seen a decline in their crime rate beginning in 1994, saw a continued decline with the implementation of the Compstat program. However, in its deviation from New York’s prototype, Lowell’s program was subject to internal conflicts. This report, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice provides a challenge to Compstat’s proponents by showing the program to be a tool whose potential is unfulfilled. This report provides a systematic analysis of the elements of Compstat and their implementation in smaller police departments, focusing on the Lowell Police Department. Seven core elements of Compstat have been previously identified: (1) mission clarification; (2) internal accountability; (3) geographic organization of operational demand; (4) organizational flexibility; (5) data-driven identification of problems and assessment of the department’s problem-solving efforts; (6) innovative problem-solving tactics; and (7) external information exchange. This attempts to provide a detailed description of Lowell’s Compstat program, explain the benefits and challenges of implementing the various key elements of Compstat, and to use the knowledge gained of Lowell to provide some insights into Compstat’s future in law enforcement. The evaluation indicated that the actual operation of Compstat in Lowell has produced a pattern of practices that does not readily fit with the idealized characterizations that have trumpeted its implementation in other venues. The unevenness of the implementation has placed great stress on elements that are most consistent with goals that have long been embraced by top police managers across the United States, fighting crime and getting subordinates to carry out their leaders priorities. Appendices 1-4 and references
Date Published: January 1, 2004