In the early 1990s, personnel of the New York City Police Department described the organization as demoralized and paralyzed. As in other hierarchies, the prime objective of officers within the Department was avoidance of mistakes rather than action. The culture of settling for the status quo prevented officers from aggressively curbing crime. The hierarchal organization also led to poor communication between headquarters staff and borough commanders, as well as borough commanders and precinct commanders. Middle management positions were virtually ignored and designated very little responsibility. The limited communication was compounded by the lack of up-to-date information which made thorough analysis of crime patterns practically impossible.
Police Commissioner William Bratton set out to revolutionize the culture of the NYPD in 1994. Bratton emphasized immediate changes within the Department, rather than long-term diffuse mechanisms. In response to the problems created by the Department's out-of-date crime data, Compstat, short for computer comparison statistics, was conceived. Compstat uses timely crime statistics to push precinct commanders to greater awareness and command of the immediate on-the-ground crime situation.
Within each of the City's 76 precincts, Compstat is used to compile information on crimes, victims, times of day crimes took place, and other details that enable precinct officials to spot emerging crime patterns. The result is a computer-generated map illustrating where and when crime is occurring. With this high-tech "pin-mapping" approach, the police can quickly identify trouble spots as well as causal relationships and then target resources to fight crime strategically. Precinct commanders now work closely with precinct detective squad commanders on countering the developing crime patterns within their precincts.
Compstat is most valuable as an instrument to increase communication and accountability within the NYPD. The Police Commissioner, Chief of Department, Chief of Detectives, and Deputy Commissioner for Operations, and other top executives meet in rotation with all of the department's field commanders at semi-weekly Compstat meetings, where they identify crime patterns, select tactics, and allocate resources on the spot. In a continuous cycle, precinct commanders return to face the panel every five weeks to report their outcomes and developing problems. If the expectation of consistent crime reduction is not being met, precinct commanders can anticipate receiving harsh criticism. In the same way, precinct commanders who perform up to standards are awarded for their effort.
Since Compstat was introduced, crime rates in New York City have dropped dramatically. From 1993 to 1995, the total crime rate declined 27.44 percent across the city. During this same period, the City's homicide rate decreased by 38.66 percent meaning 3,000 fewer murder victims. These staggering statistics result in part from the introduction of Compstat, an effective response to an unmotivated police department. By granting the authority to precinct commanders to develop local solutions for local problems while holding them far more accountable for local results, the Compstat system provided the necessary inspiration to prompt the NYPD to initiate action and vigorously attack crime.