corrective measures

Guarded Numbers: Probe Finds Vast Undercount of Violent Incidents at City Jails

A logbook of incidents at the Manhattan Detention Complex.
A logbook of incidents at the Manhattan Detention Complex. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

The city jails’ system to track violence behind bars is “unreliable” — leading to significant undercounting of incidents, according to a Department of Investigation report obtained by THE CITY.

In just one three-month period, the Department of Correction underreported the number of inmate fights by more than 1,000, according to the DOI.

DOI probers found supervisors “coach” underlings on unrecorded phone lines on how to classify bloody brawls. DOC brass also use so-called “logbook entries” – manually recording incidents that don’t get publicly reported, the 11-page report said.

“The lack of adequate or reliable tracking inhibits DOI’s oversight investigations, makes it more difficult for DOC to assess and address violence and devise effective measures to reduce it, and results in inaccurate reporting to the public and to other government officials and entities,” said the report, dated March 4.

The review, obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request, paints a picture of an outdated record-keeping system that relies on physical logbooks that are not shared publicly and can be difficult to track. The DOI report also highlights overwhelmed top staff at the DOC’s critical Central Operations Desk, where initial decisions about violent incidents are made.

Among the key findings:

• Some Use of Force incidents involving officers were filed in the department’s “Non-Reportable Logbooks” — essentially removing them from public review.

• Photos of injured inmates were not consistently logged into DOC’s main electric record-keeping system.

• Violent incidents were sometimes categorized as minor scraps before a doctor reviewed the inmate injuries.

• Department brass was unable to locate nearly 40% of the so-called Injury to Inmate reports requested by DOI.

One inmate advocate was not surprised.

“Like everything with the DOC what they report one year is different than the next year,” said Grace Price, a co-founder of Close Rosies, which advocates for the shutdown of the all-female Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island. “They intentionally issue different data sets so you can’t compare the data or track progress.”

Databases Don’t Add Up

DOI probers took a comprehensive look at DOC’s “Incident Reporting System,” “Inmate Fight Tracking Database” and “Injury to Inmate” reports from Feb. 1, 2017 through April 30, 2017.

A logbook used at a city jail to record violent incidents.
A logbook used at a city jail to record violent incidents. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

“None of these sources could provide a complete and accurate record of inmate-on-inmate violence within DOC,” the report concluded.

For example, a total of 1,434 fights in the 12 facilities looked at by investigators over three months were recorded by staff in the Inmate Fight Tracking Database, the DOI review said.

But only 410 fights were reported in the Incident Reporting System (IRS) in the “Serious Injury to Inmate” category – and 1,024 were not captured at all, the probe found.

“In other words, 71% of inmate fights during the study period were not documented in the IRS, and the IRS category that is supposed to be tracking inmate-on-inmate violence appears to be wholly unutilized by DOC staff,” the report said.

In some cases, department officials were unable to produce documents, including 39% of its Injury to Inmate reports over the three-month period reviewed by DOI.

Investigators also “experienced similar difficulties in trying to obtain various logbooks for this investigation,” the report said.

Manhattan Detention Complex, aka
Manhattan Detention Complex, aka “The Tombs.” Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Past Controversy Dogs DOC

Criminal justice watchdogs and union leaders meanwhile have long argued city jail stats are unreliable.

In 2016, the Daily News reported 11 cases that raised questions – including one where a jail captain was photographed with blood on his hand after he broke up a fight among inmates. The captain categorized the incident as a low-level use of force. But it was later “downgraded” on behalf of then-Security Chief Turhan Gumusdere, records show.

Internal jail records show that Gumusdere and other top supervisors ordered rank-and-file staffers to downplay multiple violent incidents.

Steve Martin, a federal monitor who oversees the DOC, reviewed 13 suspected downgraded cases and found DOC’s “determination that some of those incidents were not actually uses of force to be reasonable.”

Earlier, DOI investigators concluded Gumusdere, then-deputy warden of security, and Warden William Clemons, “misrepresented inmate-on-inmate fight statistics” at a jail on Rikers Island between May and November 2011.

Citing those findings, the DOI recommended the two men be demoted.

Instead, former Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte promoted both of them.

Gumusdere, who retired with a disability pension in August 2017, has vehemently denied forcing staff to change reports unless the video evidence suggested an adjustment was necessary.

Ponte also denied violent incidents were being whitewashed. He was not immediately available for comment on the new DOI report.

The DOI made 12 policy and procedural recommendations to reform the Correction Department’s record system.

Correction officials are reluctant to accept all the recommendations, citing everything from a lack of funds to rules already in place. All told, the department denied six recommendations, partially accepted four, and agreed to fully enact two.

The DOC rejected having staff report inmate-on-inmate fights to the Central Operations Desk and entered into the IRS system. That data is reported in the Inmate Fight Tracking database, according to the DOC response.

Other proposals rejected include: creating a uniform classification for all violent incidents, using logbooks only for facility maintenance, reviewing medical records before classifying an incident, stopping the use of unrecorded phone lines in the Central Operations Desk, and staffing the Central Operations Desk with two Assistant Deputy Wardens.

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