The Birth of CompStat

 
 
By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld  |  Posted 2002-09-10
 
 
 

They just wanted to go home. And they had to figure out what to name the file, before they could close down the computer and head out into the snow.

Yet Gene Whyte, John Brancato, Richard Mehia and John Yohe of the New York Police Department had just eight numbers or letters to work with. This was January 1994, and their IBM-compatible computer just ran the command-line Disk Operating System that had preceded Windows as the way you typed in instructions.

So someone called out "CompStat."

Thus was born the name for a statistical system of tracking crime that would transform the policing of streets in the nation's biggest urban center—and now be touted as a way to combat terrorism, as well.

It would be a revolution that would burnish the careers of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his Police Commissioner, William Bratton. It also would be a system that would be adopted or adapted by metropolitan law enforcement agencies across the country, and studied the world over.

Yet there was precious little technical originality. The real creativity was applying attention and discipline to the use of the data that, for the first time, got collected regularly. For the story of how computer-coordinated statistics made over police work, go to: www.baselinemag.com/compstat