Former NYC mayor Giuliani at the Republican National Convention (RNC) railed against democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and painted a picture of a dystopian nation. In reality over the last thirty years “major crimes,” in New York City, the reminder of the nation and other parts of the world have dropped, dropped sharply.
Criminologists, sociologists and journalists are proffering reasons, many, many reasons, without any agreement.
In New York City the decline in the homicide rate has been incredible.
.Since 1990, major crimes [in New York City] have fallen 81.9% in a period that spanned the administrations of four mayors, both Republican and Democratic … Despite last year’s jump , murders were still 85.9% below 1990 levels.
Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg pointed to “broken windows policing” and “stop and frisk,” hundreds of thousands of men of color detained, searched and questioned by the police.
In August, 2013 Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin declared the practice of “Stop and Frisk” unconstitutional.
It is important to recognize the human toll of unconstitutional stops. While it is true that any one stop is a limited intrusion in duration and deprivation of liberty, each stop is also a demeaning and humiliating experience. No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life. Those who are routinely subjected to stops are overwhelmingly people of color, and they are justifiably troubled to be singled out when many of them have done nothing to attract the unwanted attention.
Newly elected Mayor de Blasio ended the practice and outgoing police commissioner Kelly, conservatives, the NY Post, the Manhattan Institute all predicted an uptick in homicides, in reality, homicides continued to decline, and, at a more rapid rate.
As stops have receded, crime in New York City has dropped significantly, with 2018 seeing the lowest number of recorded homicides in nearly 70 years. New York’s experience proves, unequivocally, that police do not have to stop hundreds of thousands of innocent people to bring down crime.
Why have major crimes been declining for the last thirty years and why has New York City been leading the trend? Why has major crime continued at high rates in some cities? No cities in the entire New York-New England region and the western U.S. made the list. (Thirty cities with the highest murder rates here)
In 2015 the Brennan Center at the NYU School of Law published, “What Caused the Decline of Crime,” a deep dive into the data, and point to a number of policies that had a small impact, the one that does virtually no impact is mass incarceration, the US has more people incarcerated per capita than any other Western nation.
The NYU report argues that one of the effective police policies in reducing is Compstat,
One policing approach that helps police gather data used to identify crime patterns and target resources, a technique called CompStat, played a role in bringing down crime in cities: Based on an analysis of the 50 most populous cities, this report finds that CompStat-style programs were responsible for a 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime in those cities that introduced it.
Increased number of police officers had a small role in crime reduction.
Certain social, economic, and environmental factors also played a role in the crime drop: According to this report’s empirical analysis, the aging population, changes in income, and decreased alcohol consumption also affected crime. A review of past research indicates that consumer confidence and inflation also seem to have contributed to crime reduction.
Among the economic factors reducing crime are high employment, a thriving economy and neighborhood gentrification.
The report concludes that it can only attribute reasons for reducing crime to 1/3 of the policies discussed above.
A highly controversial paper argues, “unwanted children are at an elevated risk for less favorable life outcomes on multiple dimensions, including criminal involvement, and the legalization of abortion appears to have dramatically reduced the number of unwanted births.” (Donohue, John J.; Levitt, Steven D. “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades,” National Bureau of Economic Research, May 2019)
I have argued that the phasing out of large dysfunctional high schools, beginning in the early nineties and the creation of small, more personalized high schools may have played a role in reducing crime. (1990:126 high schools, 2020: 489 high schools, the same number of kids)
In December, 2017 a blogger wrote,
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.
Perhaps COVID and the move to remote instruction disconnected kids from school and played a role in increasing serious criminality.
The increases in serious crime, homicides and gun-related crimes are disturbing; whether the increases are part of the Ferguson Effect is disputed, in fact , the entire concept of a Ferguson Effect is under serious scrutiny.
.Communities of color are debating the role of policing.
After Three Murders On One Street, Neighbors Disagree On Whether More Police Will Help During a recent five-day stretch, three people were fatally shot on Ocean Avenue. And while some locals are skeptical that cops and residents can build trust, others fear there’s been a policing slowdown. “These men that are going around killing people feel that they can walk freely with their gun,” said the mother of one victim. “I think they need to bring back that full funding of police officers, I really do.”
One of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, Brownsville, has been sharply critical of policing and an excellent article discusses the use of community residents to work with disaffected elements within the community, points to specific programs, urges the city to adequately fund the programs and change the role of the police (Read “What ‘Defund The Police’ Means In A New York Neighborhood With High Homicide Rates and a History of Struggling for Justice,” here)
Over the last thirty years New York City, for complex and disputed reasons, has reduced homicides and violent crime in general by enormous percentages; however, the city has a long way to go to keep the numbers moving downward. In the most impacted communities the police have to learn to work with communities, not against communities.
If New York City keeps the COVID numbers low and the city continues to edge towards normalcy, if the financial woes are resolved and a vaccine emerges I believe the vibrancy of the city will return even more invigorated.
Richard Florida, a sociologist who has written extensively about cities (“This is not the end of cities” 6/2020) tells us,
Not only are cities on the upswing, we are in the early stages of a new wave of urban policy innovation, which is occurring from the bottom up in cities, our true laboratories of democracy. Even before the current crises, cities were beginning to address the mounting challenges of racial and class division, inequality, police reform and worsening housing burdens. Coalitions and networks of mayors, urban leaders, neighborhood and civic groups, philanthropy, and public-private partnerships were already moving on all of these fronts to develop new and better strategies for inclusive urban development. The current crises have given these initiatives greater salience and urgency. And, the racial and economic diversity of cities and of today’s urban protest movement give them heightened political resonance.
We are seeing the coming together of a political force that can spark a new urban agenda and much more …. The growing ranks of unemployed and under-employed are demanding — and deserve — an expanded social safety net, universal health care coverage and better schools. Black Lives Matter is demanding — and requires — real police reform that redirects funding from policing per se to initiatives that reduce violence and promote social stability by strengthening the fabric of disadvantaged communities. That will also require much-needed investments that at long last address the root causes of concentrated poverty and of systemic racial and economic inequality. This coalescing movement represents a political force that is stronger and more potent than anything we have seen in decades.
It is no longer possible to ignore our cities, which remain our underlying engines of innovation, economic growth, and job creation, and the vanguards of a healthier, more sustainable and resilient future. Remaking and rebuilding urban America to be far more equitable, just and inclusive is the necessary first step in the long-overdue process of healing and recovery for our nation as a whole.