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Is the NYPD Solving Crimes? Who Knows—Their Last Published Clearance Data Is From 2022

City law requires the NYPD to report its clearance rates quarterly. Under the Adams administration, it just…stopped.

Matthias Kinsella / Unsplash|

(Unsplash / Matthias Kinsella)

At a press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams brushed off questions about documented police violence against New Yorkers taking part in a protest the previous weekend, suggesting that critics of the NYPD should actually be thanking the department. 

"Those organizations who are writing letters of how bad they perform, I would just love one day to write a letter about the agency that brought down crime and removed 15,000 guns off our streets and double-digit decrease in homicides and shootings and ride our subway system," Adams said. "How about a letter for that, once? Just one letter. One letter saying, 'Thank you, detective who put your lives in, sealed the crime, or closed the crime.'"

The argument Adams appeared to be making is a familiar one: Critics of police misconduct and of absent or deficient mechanisms for police accountability would do well to remember that whatever their flaws, police keep the public safe by solving crimes and closing cases.

One way of measuring how well the police are doing at this job is to look at the number of specific crimes for which the police have made an arrest, as a proportion of the number of crimes that have been reported. This is called the clearance rate. A department with a low clearance rate isn't solving many of the crimes that are being reported, and presumably isn't doing much to deter people who might commit crimes from committing more of them. 

It's a sufficiently important statistic that since 2017, the City's administrative code has required the NYPD to publish on its website the clearance rates for seven major index crimes: homicide, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft. The code requires the NYPD to publish the numbers quarterly, no later than 30 days after the end of each quarter.

But for more than a year, the NYPD has been flouting this requirement. The last posted clearance rates are from the final quarter of 2022, and archives of the web page show it hasn't been updated in more than a year. The reports are also missing from the City's Government Publications Portal.

We asked the NYPD's press team office, DCPI (which, it was recently revealed, has ballooned to include a stunning 86-person staff), where we could find the missing five quarters of clearance data. DCPI wrote back directing us to the page that is very clearly missing that data. We wrote back, noting that the page is in fact missing the data we're asking for, noting the legal requirement that the data be posted, and asking where we could find it. The 86 full-time public employees of DCPI did not see fit to respond to that email. A further request sent to the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Tarik Sheppard himself, as well as the Mayor's Office, did not receive a response either, as of press time.

The most recent publicly available clearance rates, from almost a year and a half ago, show that the NYPD's ability to resolve reported crimes with arrests varied significantly depending on the type of crime: There were four murder arrests for every five murders, but only one arrest for every two reports of forcible rape and only three arrests for every 10 reports of other kinds of rape. Motor vehicle theft was even worse: only one arrest for every nine reported car thefts.

But these numbers are old. How are they trending? Have the police made any improvement in tracking down car thieves? Are cops in the Bronx taking rape less seriously than cops in Manhattan? The answer isn't to be found on the NYPD's website, or from its well-staffed public information office.

Another way to get the NYPD's clearance data would be through the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, through which local police departments report a host of data about crime and their responses to it—except that, unlike other New York state police departments like the Buffalo PD, the Albany PD, and the Canastota Village PD, which all managed to get their numbers to the feds, the NYPD's data is not available through the UCR portal. (An NYPD spokesperson told the Marshall Project last year they expect to be included in the federal survey "in the near future," but did not specify when that might be.)

The missing numbers are frustrating, but not surprising, for police accountability advocates. "The NYPD has engaged in a common practice of undermining transparency efforts through either noncompliance or slow compliance with requirements," said Jennvine Wong, supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Society's Cop Accountability Project. "The department has generally not been the most receptive to a lot of transparency efforts."

Alex Vitale, a sociology professor and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, said the missing reports speak to the department's approach to the public. "The NYPD has a PR staff of 80-plus officers but can't ever seem to comply with basic public transparency requirements, Freedom of Information requests, or the timely posting of required statistics," Vitale said. "It's a department that seems much more interested in public image management than public accountability."

While clearance rates are hardly the only measure of a police department's impact on public safety, Vitale said, "they do help us to understand some overall trends in how the department responds to crime." Given the NYPD's particularly egregious handling of sexual assault cases, which is currently the subject of a federal investigation, the missing numbers "raise questions about whether or not failure to provide this information is politically motivated," Vitale said.

Astoria City Councilmember Tiffany Cabán, who sits on the council's Public Safety Committee, agreed that the missing reports are a problem. "The NYPD has proven to be a rogue agency that considers itself above all laws, rules, oversight, and public accountability," Cabán told Hell Gate. "Considering they sometimes don't even show up to hearings, it is unsurprising that they don't submit very simple required reports. These reports are needed to assess the impacts and results from current police practices. We desperately need a mayor who will reign in this wildly disrespectful, unaccountable department."

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