Reply All episode 127 and 128: The Crime Machine
October 17, 2018 9:07 AM   Subscribe

New York City cops are in a fight against their own police department. They say it’s under the control of a broken computer system that punishes cops who refuse to engage in racist, corrupt policing. The story of their fight, and the story of the grouchy idealist who originally built the machine they’re fighting.
PJ Vogt tells the story of the New York cop who brought data to policing, and the unintended consequences that followed. Part 1 (45 minute audio with transcript). Part 2 (40 minute audio with transcript).
posted by rebent (15 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't read all the way through (although I will!), but I just want to say that if you're curious to read more about the topic, I highly recommend Matt Taibbi's I Can't Breathe, which looks into the policies and real-world experiences that lead up to (and followed) the killing of Eric Garner.
posted by hopeless romantique at 9:32 AM on October 17, 2018

I listened to this recently and HIGHLY recommend it. Fascinating story that's all too familiar to anyone who was ever been frustrated with the use of numbers to represent human behaviors.
posted by ropeladder at 10:00 AM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

PJ: So what Pedro is hearing his boss say is you can get every summons you need in the park, that’s fine. But he knows the other thing that she’s not explicitly saying, which is that for those summonses to count, they’ll have to be of young black men.

And the reason for that is also directly coming from CompStat. The reason this roll call is happening is there had been a crime pattern in the neighborhood. At a nearby intersection, there had been a string of robberies, and witnesses had identified the suspects as young black men between the ages of 14 and 21.

I'm all for the increased use of data in many professions, but without oversight they'll just confirm the biases they were put in place to avoid.
posted by hopeless romantique at 10:02 AM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is actually more interesting than it might appear on the tin - it’s talking essentially about how big data can be used for good, but how essentially self interest fights back. Maple’s system was working, but it required police deal with real crimes. Then police decided they didn’t want to deal with real performance evaluations based on actual crimes, so they fudged the numbers. The problem isn’t the big data- it’s specifically with who is using the big data and what they are optimizing for. And for Giuliani, it was arrests.

It’s especially interesting because people have talked about the Bratton days as the success of “broken windows” policing, but it turns out that’s how Giuliani described it, not how the guy who actually caused the reduction thought about or wanted. It’s essentially backwards.
posted by corb at 10:08 AM on October 17, 2018 [12 favorites]

The problem isn’t the big data- it’s specifically with who is using the big data and what they are optimizing for. And for Giuliani, it was arrests.

Yea, the whole "crime goes down and arrests go up" mentality is just absurd.
posted by hopeless romantique at 10:12 AM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is a must-listen, and synergizes really well with the current season of Serial.
posted by rikschell at 10:13 AM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

But some of these chiefs started to figure out, wait a minute, the person who's in charge of actually keeping track of the crime in my neighborhood is me. And so if they couldn’t make crime go down, they just would stop reporting crime. And they found all these different ways to do it. You could refuse to take crime reports from victims, you could write down different things than what had actually happened. You could literally just throw paperwork away. And so that guy would survive that CompStat meeting, he’d get his promotion, and then when the next guy showed up, the number that he had to beat was the number that a cheater had set. And so he had to cheat a little bit more.

The Fraud Machine.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:21 AM on October 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

This is frickin fantastic (and scary), I've been telling everyone about it. LISTEN TO IT NOOOOWWWW
posted by capnsue at 10:24 AM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Btw, if you're enjoying this and Serial, may I also recommend the current season of Crimeland (may only be on Spotify?) and USA Today's (!) podcast The City. All of these seem to be currently addressing police issues, which I guess shouldn't be surprising.
posted by selfnoise at 10:29 AM on October 17, 2018

FanFare posts for part one and part two.

At the end of part two, PJ also recommends Crime and Punishment on Hulu, a documentary featuring some of the police officers from the episodes (I think the first person PJ speaks to).
posted by ellieBOA at 11:52 AM on October 17, 2018

Also known as juking the stats, courtesy of The Wire.
posted by orrnyereg at 12:06 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is a great set of episodes; thank you Reply All crew for this great reporting and analysis.
posted by latkes at 1:13 PM on October 17, 2018

Yeah, a great set of episodes. Dramatized 14 years ago (!) in The Wire and not limited to the police in that show.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:29 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is it sad that my takeway from these two episodes is that it all boils down to Guiliani being awful and Just Not Getting It[tm]?
posted by jferg at 8:09 AM on October 18, 2018

I mean, my takeaway was Giuliani was just a little shit asterisk in this story. Yes, one crap carceral ghoul in leadership certainly seems to have bumped this in a terrible direction, but really this is a system problem. The system was set up to reward lying, gaming, and using existing disparities to make quota at the expense of black and brown people.
posted by latkes at 8:38 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

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