“Rats coming out of here wearing tape recorders”

Why does a New York Police Department precinct commander sound so much like a Mob boss?

Criminals have long called those who inform on them “rats.” And the most dangerous “rats” are the ones who tape-record incriminating conversations by concealing recording equipment in their clothing.

So it’s not surprising to hear a crime boss, meeting with his subordinates, worrying about “rats coming out of here wearing tape recorders,” though it’s a nice irony when that comment is itself captured on tape.

However, when the complaint comes from a NYPD precinct commander meeting with his command staff, the irony is raised to a level I’m not entirely comfortable with.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

3 thoughts on ““Rats coming out of here wearing tape recorders””

  1. I'm not sure I understand the problem with the quotas. If they're higher than the number of actual offenses, obviously it's an incentive to abuse. But if actual offending rates are a lot higher than citation capacity, why isn't this a mechanism to motivate productivity like any other (whether or not effective or the best available)?

  2. Mike, the problem is that you'd like the number of punishments to go down with the number of offenses, and you want to move the number of offenses down using as few actual punishments as possible. Quotas create all the wrong incentives. The whole point of CompStat was to measure outcomes (crime rates) not outputs (arrests).

    In addition, you want the cops to use some common sense in punishing only infractions that cause real problems. In LA, the best way to meet your traffic ticket quota is to watch a stop sign on a street with no cross-traffic, where slowing down rather than stopping poses no actual accident risk and many drivers choose that (technically illegal, but safe) option. So you get tickets, but no disincentive for the kind of driving behavior that actually hurts people.

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