Compstat and Organizational Change: A National Assessment

Police departments across the country have turned their attention to Compstat as an innovation in police management that combines state-of-the-art management principles with cutting edge crime analysis and geographic information systems technology. Compstat (computer comparison statistics), a management system initiated in the New York City Police Department, was implemented as a measure to control crime and improve the quality of life in that city. In the years since its appearance, its popularity among police and policy makers suggests that it is becoming the model of what it means to be a progressively managed department. Compstat programs have received national publicity and have been credited with impressive reductions in crime and improvements in neighborhood quality of life.

We identify a number of elements that full implementation of Compstat demands: mission clarification; geographic organization of operational command; data-driven analysis of problems and assessment of the department’s problem-solving efforts; effective problem-solving tactics; organizational flexibility; internal accountability; and external accountability. Little is known about whether and to what extent departments are implementing these elements of Compstat or whether new varieties of the program are evolving.

This study provides a systematic exploration and assessment of the adoption and adaptation of Compstat and strategic problem solving in police agencies across the country. It addresses five primary groups of research concerns:

  1. How widely diffused is Compstat and strategic problem solving as an American policing strategy? How quickly have Compstat-like programs diffused onto the American police scene?
  2. What are the types of Compstat-like programs that have developed? What elements of strategic problem solving do they stress? Do agencies that introduce Compstat or Compstat-like programs share similar goals and aspirations?
  3. What has attracted police executives to consider and adopt Compstat or Compstat-like programs? How have departments learned about it and why have they adopted it?
  4. What special challenges does Compstat present for police organizations? What are police departments engaged in Compstat doing to try to deal with these challenges?
  5. What special problems exist for the implementation of data and technology and for their integration with problem solving? Can data be collected? Can technology be integrated? Are problem-solving strategies implemented, and at what depth?

Our study was designed to address these research concerns using three research methods which were undertaken sequentially: (1) a national survey of local police agencies; (2) site visits at up to 15 departments; and (3) process evaluation at three sites. These techniques provide three layers of analysis: (1) a broad-based understanding of the diffusion of Compstat in American policing; (2) a richer sense of the varieties of Compstat programs and the extent of implementation; and (3) in-depth knowledge of the most successfully implemented models and their ramifications at all levels of the organizations in which they operate.

Three reports were published from the larger study:

Compstat and Organizational Change in the Lowell Police Department: Challenges and Opportunities provides a detailed description of Lowell’s Compstat program.

The Growth of Compstat in American Policing describes the national survey that assessed the number of U.S. police agencies using Compstat and measured the degree to which the elements of Compstat were part of their routine and structure.

Compstat in Practice: An In-Depth Analysis of Three Cities explores the relationship between the theory and practice of Compstat in three police departments of different size, organizational structure, and crime environment. It shows how police managers and officers adapted their routine tasks and activities to Compstat’s focus on accountability, innovative problem solving, and crime fighting. The challenges they faced in doing so reflected the culture of the individual department, the availability of resources for personnel, the sophistication of technology, and management’s commitment to the program. The distinct experiences of the three departments—Lowell, MA; Minneapolis, MN; and Newark, NJ— reveal Compstat’s complexities, highlight its contributions, and provide some insights into the direction it is leading U.S. policing.