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Reforming to Preserve: Compstat and Strategic Problem Solving in American Policing

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 2 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2003 Pages: 421-455
Date Published
July 2003
35 pages

This federally supported report presents a description of Compstat programs, considered in the framework of strategic problem solving within law enforcement.


The idea of Compstat emerged around 1994 as a new administration took office in New York City with promises of controlling crime and disorder. Compstat assumes that police agencies must have a clearly defined organizational mission in order to function effectively. Since its first appearance, Compstat has emerged in police departments around the country. It is nationally recognized as a major innovation in American policing and considered in the framework of strategic problem solving. This paper, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, provides the first national description of Compstat programs. Relying on a survey of American police departments conducted by the Police Foundation, this paper examined the diffusion of Compstat programs and the nature of Compstat models across the United States. In addition, the penetration of models of strategic problem solving more generally into American policing is assessed. The data were drawn from a survey of a stratified sample of American police agencies with municipal policing responsibilities. A universe of large departments was surveyed because Compstat programs were seen to be more relevant to and feasible in these departments. Overall, 86 percent of those selected sent responses back. Findings document a process of “diffusion of innovation” of Compstat-like programs in larger police departments that follows a rapid pace. In addition, the data suggest that many elements of strategic problem solving had begun to be implemented more widely across American police agencies before the emergence of Compstat as a programmatic entity. However, the analysis suggests that what most characterizes Comstat departments and distinguishes them from others is the development of the control element of reform. This raises the question of whether American police agencies have adopted Compstat enthusiastically more because of its promise of reinforcing the traditional hierarchical model of policing than for its efforts to empower problem solving in police agencies. References

Date Published: July 1, 2003