In the early 1990’s, now legendary deceased New York City cop Jack Maple and police commissioner Bill Bratton began to develop the well-chronicled Compstat program. Compstat was a crime tracking program that was introduced during Bratton’s first stint as New York City’s top cop. It was widely hailed as one of the most significant factors in the city’s unprecedented reduction in crime. The system employed computer technology to pinpoint high crime areas. The police department, in turn, would flush those areas with more officers, attacking the problem with a systemic approach. Compstat also largely depended on accountability. Commanding officers would be required to appear at intense meetings and explain why certain high crime areas remained that way. They were required to outline their crime fighting strategies in front of superior officers and defend any failures. The motivation to reduce crime was pervasive throughout the department and the system worked.
Now, after two decades of historic low crime rates, New York City is recognized as the country’s safest large city. The Compstat approach has been used in other agencies. For instance, it has been utilized to remedy traffic conditions and reduce traffic fatalities in New York City. It has also been used by the sanitation department. Many other municipalities have mimicked Compstat to help their law enforcement agencies combat crime. Some, like Baltimore, have employed it to help run their government. Now, the New York City Court System is crediting, in part, a Compstat approach to reducing the arrest to arraignment time. Simply put, Compstat is helping make the process of getting people that have been arrested in front of a judge more efficient.
To put in a historical context, the New York and United States Constitutions mandate that a criminal defendant be brought before a judge as soon as possible. This has been interpreted in New York State to require authorities to process a criminal defendant and have him in front of a judge within 24 hours from arrest. New York, for decades, has failed miserably in this context. Criminal defendants would sometimes languish in jail before arraignment for days. Defendants were also without much of a remedy. They could complain, occasionally someone would file a lawsuit. But the suit would be heard long after their arraignment was over and few cared enough about the problem for meaningful change to take place. It mattered little to lawyers who mostly viewed it as a nuisance case that would yield little return. So, very little changed. Still, it was a source of embarrassment for the court system, one that few wanted to acknowledge.
This all changed over the last year or so. Brooklyn Judge George A. Grosso, a respected jurist and former cop, has spearheaded the campaign to reduce the staggering delays in getting criminal defendants to court in a more expeditious fashion. Grasso was put in charge of arraignments in the city in 2012 by another top judge, Barry Kamins, and the results have been nothing short of remarkable. How did he do it? Relying on the Compstat model, he utilized a computer-tracking system that followed the prisoners as they progressed through the system. He also used a large number of scanners – – that were seemingly laying around and not being used – – to track case files. Grasso told the New York Times that he saw the arraignment parts as “mini-CompStat sessions.” Now, judges, clerks, police officers, defense lawyers and prosecutors have the technology to track prisoners as they navigate their way from a police precinct to their ultimate destination – – standing in front of the judge to enter a plea. Grasso also has the ears of commanding officers at precincts, using his position to persuade them to prioritize this issue. He is holding everyone accountable, requiring reporting when prisoners are detained at any stop along the way for more than a normal amount of time.
The results have been nothing short of sensational. The citywide time it takes for a prisoner to be produced for their arraignment is the lowest it has been in decades. While few care, until it is them or a loved one sitting in this spot, this is a ‘easy to ignore’ problem but a problem that needed correcting. People’s rights and due process matter to everyone and when you start depriving people of their rights because it is just easier to ignore the problem, the fabric of this country grows weaker. We salute the hardworking folks in the court system for making this a priority.
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