Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bill Bratton and the Ideology of Data: NYC and the Future of Policing

Ingrid Burrington 

New York City Compstat weekly crime data, 11/18-24/13
The disappointment and outrage at Bill de Blasio's appointment of Bill Bratton as NYPD Police Commissioner isn't just about stop-and-frisk. It isn't just about Bratton's profiteering in the private security industry. It's also about data--how governments think about data, how they use (and misuse) data, and what happens when that data means more to governments than the human beings and lives it's supposed to represent.

The great promise of data-driven policy (in cities, in advertising, in online dating) is that it's neutral. Numbers and algorithms don't lie, so decisions made through collecting data are going to be the best ones. While the idea of data as an instrument of state legibility deserves its own essay, the contemporary perfection and normalization of it really comes back to Bratton and to CompStat, the program for decreasing crime through data-driven analysis that Bratton implemented in 1994 as Police Commissioner during the Guiliani administration.

CompStat was, for a long time, credited with dramatically decreasing crime in New York City in the 1990s. Its model has been appropriated by police departments, city agencies, and even entire state governments throughout the country, including Los Angeles, Austin, and San Francisco (Bratton often played a direct role in implementing the program in other cities, either as an employee of the department as in LA or as a consultant). CitiStat, the version of CompStat implemented in Baltimore (depicted as "ComStat" on The Wire), later became the model for StateStat, the data-driven program implemented for the entire state of Maryland. It's even implicated in the burgeoning open data industry, as seen in the software company Socrata's GovStat tool.

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