At the height of the crack epidemic (1990) there were 2262 homicides in New York City; in 2016 there were 335 homicides – incredible. (Check out NYC crime data here).
While homicide rates continue at high level in city after city the rates in New York City continue to decline, probably below 300 for 2017.
What are we doing right?
See top 30 city homicide rates here.
Not only are homicide rates high the rates are breaking records in a number of cities.
In spite of the spotlight homicide rates in Chicago continue to spike: The Atlantic takes a deep dive into the persistently high homicide rates.
Criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, electeds have all parsed the reams of data to attempt to provide an answer: why has the homicide rate in New York City continued to decline, to decline precipitously while in other cities the rates have been persistently high or increasing?
“Broken Windows” Policing and “Stop and “Frisk”
The eight years of Giuliani and the twelve years of Bloomberg were years of what critics called “harsh” policing. Arresting turnstile jumpers and public intoxicators, “stop and frisk” widely used in communities of color targeting young men of color, policies that both administrations claim reduced homicide rates.
A 2000 National Bureau of Economic Research study reports,
Many attribute New York’s crime reduction to specific “get-tough” policies carried out by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration. The most prominent of his policy changes was the aggressive policing of lower-level crimes, a policy which has been dubbed the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement. In this view, small disorders lead to larger ones and perhaps even to crime.
In Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows (NBER Working Paper No. 9061), co-authors Hope Corman and Naci Mocan find that the “broken windows” approach does not deter as much crime as some advocates argue, but it does have an effect
Skeptics believe that it was the economic boom of the 1990s – a “carrot” that encourages people to remain on the straight-and-narrow – that brought about the drop in crime rates in New York City and the nation.
The contribution of such deterrence measures (the “stick”) offers more explanation for the decline in New York City crime than the improvement in the economy, the authors conclude.
So, “broken windows” had an impact; although not as much as claimed by the proponents.
However, Mayor de Blasio ended “stop and frisk” and arrests for low level misdemeanors have ended, homicides continue to spiral downward, and, at a faster rate.
The Impact of Legalized Abortion
A far more controversial theory comes from the “freakonomics” guys called the Donohue-Leavitt Hypothesis that proffers that the Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision, the legal accessibility of abortions, resulted in sharp decreases in a generation of potential victims and perpetrators. Males from poor dysfunctional households who were not born could not be victims or perps therefore resulting in sharp decreases in serious crime rates. The hypothesis has been vigorously debated.
Gentrification is defined as “… the renovation of a deteriorating urban neighborhood by means of the influx of more affluent residents.” The process in New York City has been accelerating; Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, Williamsburg, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods have seen the steady flow of middle class families into the neighborhoods pushing the poorer residents into existing “ghetto” neighborhoods. New York State Juvenile Justice Task Force data shows that juvenile perpetrators are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer neighborhoods. The concentration of potential victims and perpetrators into smaller geographic areas make it easier to police neighborhoods.
Some would argue that while gentrification pushes the poor out of neighborhoods and increases racial and economic segregation; a positive byproduct could be the reduction of crime.
Small High Schools
Disconnected youth is defined as youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working and not in school. Higher crime/arrest rates, higher controlled substance involvement, high pregnancy rates, a long list of negative metrics, and, cities and states around the nation are struggling to create programs to engage youth.
A detailed report, “One in Seven: Disconnected Youth in the 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas” parses the data, Boston and Minneapolis have the lowest percentages, Phoenix the highest; however, there is no correlation that I could discern between serious crime and disconnected youth by city. New York City is 17th out of the 25 Metro areas; however, much lower homicide rates.
I could not find crime rates among disconnected youth by city. We do know that victims and perpetrators are more likely not to be in school and not working.
New York City has done a commendable job of keeping school-age kids engaged in the school system.
I proffer that keeping 16 to 21 year olds engaged in school plays a role in reducing homicide rates
Beginning in the late eighties, increasing in the nineties and sharply accelerating under Bloomberg the Board and successor Department of Education closed large high schools and replaced them with small high schools. There are currently about 400 small high schools and programs by and large located in the former large high school buildings. The school registers are about 400 students. An MDRP study finds,
… small schools tended to have common traits, including a rigorous curriculum, often built around themes like conservation and law, and highly personalized relationships between students and teachers.
The schools have also formed partnerships with community groups and businesses to offer hands-on learning experiences.
The predecessor large high schools commonly had registers of over 2000 kids, and, sadly, many had high absentee rates, large class sizes and the absence of services.
I served as the teacher union representative on numerous Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams; too many schools has passed the tipping point; they had become dropout mills with large percentages of disengaged students characterized by long term absentees, cutting classes, high failure rates in classes and on Regents exams
After the 1975 fiscal crisis the school system was an afterthought, the Koch administration had little interest in schools, the decentralized school system, with exceptions, was dominated by venal politicians and patronage. Schools were starved for resources and the most disadvantaged schools suffered.
The Bloomberg administration, for his first two terms, plowed dollars into schools, (2003-2011) sharp increases in teacher salaries and a concentration on creating small schools.
While you can argue that increasing graduations rates were due to credit recovery and other management tools, the more “personalized relationships between students and teachers” cannot be disputed. The small high schools “connected” with students.
When school leaders and teachers know the name of every kid, engage with the kids on a daily basis, kids feel part of a community.
Kids who were not surviving in small high schools, students who were “overage age and under-credited” have another chance – transfer high schools. There are fifty transfer high schools scattered around the city. A hearing in Brooklyn held by the New York State Department of Education asking for public comment around the ESSA plan and the mandated 67% graduation rate, endangering transfer high schools, student after student, parent after parent testified how the transfer high school had saved their lives.
Only about half of the students in transfer high school graduate, a cohort, who did not succeed in small high schools, who do not succeed in a transfer school have another chance, the Pathways to Graduation program, targeting students from 17 – 21 years of age, Pathways prepares students for the high school equivalency examination, formerly the GED, now the TASC exam – once again, a program built on personalized relationships between students and teachers.
I proffer that students in the New York City school system are less likely to be disconnected. Students who struggle with academics, students from single parent or dysfunctional households, students living in gang-infested neighborhoods are “connected” with their school staffs.
The culture of these programs connects students to staffs, builds communities, acts as an alternative to the streets, and, in my opinion, plays a role in reducing homicide rates.
Smaller schools, smaller class size, schools with flexible programming, student advisory classes addressing social and emotional needs, students not left to be won over by the streets, meaning fewer disconnected youth, means fewer kids likely to be victims or perpetrators.
Smarter policing not harsher policing, more job opportunities, higher wages, all play roles; the impact of schools have been ignored in parsing the reasons for declining homicide rates.
I allowed kids to pick their own seats in my high school classroom. On day one a student picked the seat right in front of my desk. He was small for his age, too much acne, and the other kids used unkind language, today we’d call bullying.
One day he apologized before the class began.
“I’m sorry – I didn’t do my homework, I was practicing with my band.”
Offhandedly, I replied, “Is the band any good?”
The student, hesitantly, replied, “Yes.”
Me: “Do you have a cassette?”
The kid beamed, “Sure”
I gave the cassette to my son who has a friend who books acts, he said they weren’t bad, they should book performances at open mike venues and try and build up a following. I passed the info along to the kid.
Years later I was walking down a street and someone shouted, “Mr. G”
It was the same student.
Me: “Did you’re band make it …?”
Kid: Smiling, “We weren’t good enough, I was the sound guy, and I became a sound technician, make good money, thanks for the advice.”
We do our job and impact lives; usually we never know the impact we have.