Some say that crime dropped nationwide, so New York isn’t unique. More criminals were locked up, or demographics changed. Some even credit the legalization of abortion or the introduction of unleaded gasoline.
Statistics illustrate that policing has been the difference in New York City. While the homicide rate dropped by half in the nine largest cities other than NYC between 1990 and 2009, it dropped by 82 percent here. Rapes dropped 77 percent in New York, compared with a median rate of 49 percent in those other cities.
New York showed larger declines in every major crime, though particularly in robbery, burglary and auto theft. While robberies dropped 49 percent in other major cities, they fell an astounding 84 percent here.
Consider: In 1990, there were 2,272 homicide victims in New York City. If that rate had remained unchanged, more than 2,400 would have been killed in 2013.
Instead, there were 335. For one year alone, 2,000 fewer homicides.
The only logical explanation for the New York difference, then, is how New York fought crime. The NYPD rapidly expanded the police force and targeted specific crimes in specific areas, like cleaning up outdoor drug markets.
The only logical explanation for the New York difference, then, is how New York fought crime. The NYPD rapidly expanded the police force and targeted specific crimes in specific areas, like cleaning up outdoor drug markets.To be clear, this isn’t really “broken windows,” though that term gets much of the credit. The broken windows theory says you flood marginal neighborhoods with “order maintenance” enforcement, making sure it doesn’t slip into a chaotic spiral.
Instead, the NYPD targeted the hot spots where violence was highest. Rather than do sweeps for all low-level crimes, the department experimented with what arrests would be most effective in finding and removing serious offenders. “Zero tolerance” policing never existed in New York (or anywhere else) and would have been a disaster if it had.
Al Sharpton, who led a march on Saturday protesting the NYPD, blames the broken windows approach for the death of Eric Garner, subdued for selling loose cigarettes.
Is the Jack Maple theory to blame? No. Garner’s death is proactive policing done wrong, not right. Garner was already known to the officers and was not a public danger. He was a non-dangerous “dolphin,” and the police knew this.
The tragedy will be tried in the court, and it rightly led to Police Commission Bill Bratton ordering the retraining of all police on the use of force.
Broad slogans like “quality of life” and “order maintenance” that mischaracterize the strategic reason for police stops invite exactly the confusion that produce disasters like the Garner case.
But should this really lead to the elimination of the strategy that made the city safe? Done right, the benefits of intensive patrol and aggressive policing are real.
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