Crime stats falsified in two Nassau precincts

Nassau PBA president James Carver discusses the demotion of former 5th and 6th precincts Commander Thomas DePaola from the rank of inspector to captain due to improperly classified crimes and not counting crime statistics properly. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Aug. 1, 2012)

An investigation of a top Nassau County police commander revealed he falsified crime reports at the Fifth Precinct as well as at his former command, the Sixth Precinct, police said Wednesday.

The commander, Thomas DePaola, a 27-year veteran of the force, was stripped of his command at the Fifth this week and demoted to the rank of captain from inspector, which will mean a pay cut of about $14,000. His base inspector's salary was $170,988 annually; his new rate will be $156,724, the department said.

He will be assigned to the chief of patrol's office, where he will do "various administrative work," Nassau Police spokesman Insp. Kenneth Lack said.

A team of police chiefs audited the crime reports filed under DePaola. The compiled reports showed "considerable reduction in overall crime, with a significant decrease in grand larcenies," a police statement said.

The chiefs concluded that DePaola had manipulated not only the figures at the Elmont-based Fifth Precinct that provoked the initial investigation, but also had downgraded crime reports during most of his 20-month tenure commanding the Manhasset-based Sixth Precinct, police officials said.

"The Nassau County Police Department prides itself on being transparent and delivering the best possible police services to the residents of Nassau County," the department said in a statement.

DePaola is accused of mishandling about 170 crime reports between January 2011 and mid-July, mostly at the Sixth but also at the Fifth. Felony grand larcenies were routinely misclassified as misdemeanor petty larcenies and cases in which crime victims requested no arrests were omitted from crime statistics. Some thefts were wrongly classified as "lost property," the police department said.

The auditors combed through a sampling of thousands of crime reports across all of the county's precincts and are confident the tainted statistics are limited to the Sixth and the Fifth, said 1st Deputy Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.

Through Lack, DePaola declined to comment, and the union that represents him, the Nassau Superior Officers Association, also declined to comment.

The president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, James Carver, said at a news conference at the union's headquarters in Mineola that DePaola may have been under the gun to reduce crime.

"Obviously, I think here there might have been some pressure or internal pressure to try to keep some numbers down so this way he didn't have to explain why crime was rising," Carver said.

DePaola, on the force since 1985, has held a number of leadership positions, including heading the department's elite SWAT team, the Bureau of Special Operations, Lack said.

DePaola's downfall began in the upstairs auditorium of police headquarters in Mineola at a regular internal meeting last month about crime statistics -- a gathering known internally as Nass-Stat, officials said. At the meetings, high-level police supervisors grill commanders about their successes and failures in fighting crime.

DePaola, who had taken over the Fifth Precinct in early June, was there touting substantial reductions in grand larcenies for the reporting period June 12 to July 9, officials said.

His audience was skeptical and the brass ordered the audit, which found that the sample of DePaola's crime reports examined were misclassified about 12 percent of the time. Nassau police allow for about a 2 percent error rate. Police Commissioner Thomas Dale then ordered DePaola's transfer and demotion.

The Sixth Precinct has since been consolidated into the Third Precinct, in Williston Park, as part of the Mangano administration's cost-cutting move to halve the number of police precincts in the county.

Nassau Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) said that if the misclassified crime data "is the basis by which they determined the Sixth Precinct would be closed, I'll be very upset, very angry. I want to know first of all how this could have gone on without it being uncovered, for a year and a half, and if that was part of the basis for the precinct to close. That's a real problem."

Wink, whose district includes the Sixth Precinct, said he may ask the legislature's Public Safety Committee to hold a hearing on the issue.

Lack said that even if the 170 or so crimes DePaola is accused of misclassifying had been handled correctly, "they would have had no influence on the decision to realign the precincts."

He noted that the 170 represented a minuscule number of the roughly 190,000 case reports the department took over those 18 months.

With Celeste Hadrick

 

Classifying crime reports

 

Rank-and-file cops taking a report from a crime victim don't have final say in deciding how cases are classified.

The facts of a case go through personnel in the department's data processing unit and into the hands of supervisors like sergeants and lieutenants, typically at the precincts. Those bosses use their expertise of the law and department policy to classify the crime, Nassau police spokesman Insp. Kenneth Lack said.

But a precinct commander can also weigh in and decide how to classify a crime.

Lack said that the department has internal checks and balances to make sure crimes aren't misclassified. The department conducts periodic audits of crime report classifications.

"He's not the final word," Lack said about the precinct commander.

The department's top officials regularly hold meetings where they assess statistics compiled from the classifications and rely on them to make policing, staffing and leadership decisions.

And like most, if not all, police departments, Nassau is required to report its crime statistics to both the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Police brass in Nassau said they would be contacting both agencies to revise the statistics in light of the commander's demotion for misclassifying crime figures.

The FBI couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, but Janine Kava, spokeswoman for the state agency, said its crime stats office hadn't yet heard from Nassau about revisions.

-- MATTHEW CHAYES

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