New York's Crime Lessons

Monday, December 12, 2011

Frank Zimring, professor of law and criminal justice at UC-Berkeley and the author of The City that Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control, studied New York City's drop in crime for lessons about policing and drug enforcement for other cities. 


Frank Zimring

Comments [24]

Eliminating public access to public space from A price too high ?

Crime is down in NYC for many reasons,
some discussed during the show - like
reduced percent of NYC residents who are poor. Others were not fully discussed :

1) Post 911 surveillance boom and loss
of civil liberties. Many parts of NYC are now under constant video surveillance, stop and frisk makes a mockery of constitutional protections against illegitimate search and seizure. The right to bear arms has been virtually eliminated for the poor in NYC due to a very costly and onerous process to legally get a license to own a weapon. Also, In the early 2000s, a large police foot, helicopter and video presence was supplemented by national guard and other forces.

2) Downcoding of crimes to misdimeanors - especially prevalent in the outer borroughs (according to news reports last year - which described pressure being put on crime victims and junior police to discourage reporting crimes as felonies because this would hurt statistics - this was up for investigation, but I have not heard any follow up (perhaps NPR will look again at this?)).

3) Elimination of public access to public space. This was briefly discussed as a positive feature on the program. Most NYC parks and public spaces are now shut in the evenings. Yes, this may
deter some crime, but it also inappropriately reduces legitimate use of these public spaces by the general public.
For example, Washington square park - a great public space that has traditionally been widely used at night is often shut.
Central park is shut at night, so are many others. There essentially are no real public spaces in NYC anymore - that is open to the public at the public's discretion.
If one extends this concept, one could reduce crime even further by declaring martial law and a curfew, but most reasonable people would feel that the costs would vastly outweigh the benefits.

We are less free as a city, more heavily monitored, fenced in and constrained.
Reported crime may have gone down,
but was giving in too our fears and trading
freedom for a small amount of safety really
worth it ?

Dec. 13 2011 09:24 PM
Natalie from Brooklyn

I was disapointed that no one mentioned the increase in crimes involving women. Throughout the 5 boroughs, rapes, gropes and physical assaults against women are increasing. Is this of no concern to the professor or his listeners? I would like an explanation for this omission.

Dec. 12 2011 06:23 PM
Phyllis from Brooklyn

The economy was remarkable under President Clinton's leadership and the unemployment rate was astonishingly low. Basically, when people are working, they're not out committing crimes.

And, under the Clinton Administration, out of wedlock births also diminished significantly. There were lots of programs that aimed to improve the lives of many families that had, to that point, been mired in poverty for generations.

The country was moving, and after the lumbering 70s with its "Ford to City: Drop Dead" mentality, and Reagan's veering to the right and monumental military spending, Clinton's administration WAS really focused on bettering the lives of ordinary people. He was poor; he remembered. It wasn't apocryphal to him.

There was that notion that "a rising tide lifts all boats" that was very resonant.

I know that many progressives who were so excited about Bill Clinton ended up lamenting some of his less than progressive actions. But, I do believe that his administration's concerns led to lowering the crime rate as much as any local policing did.

Dec. 12 2011 03:48 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

@Jim B: So it's more nuanced. I see.

Dec. 12 2011 12:16 PM
Jim B

@fuva 18: Certainly there is some relationship between poverty and crime, but the nature of that relationship, when controlled for geographically and historically, isn't clear.

Dec. 12 2011 11:55 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

...Or rather, certain kinds of crime...

Interesting theories presented here folks. Thanks for the food for thought.

Dec. 12 2011 11:51 AM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

This mad argument... about whose self-serving analysis shows THEY caused the "great crime wave" to end, will go on forever. The TRUE answer has always been crystal clear, though, that it was "none of the above" of the self-promoting suspects.

What the data shows is that the community's interest in replacing in supplying children to sustain the crime culture began a rapid collapse in 1990, with no "bumps on the curve" at all for political policy shifts.

The real cause was a "change of heart", that caused the crime culture to collapse. Only the "clean-up job" was done by the police, who had tried every trick and failed to staunch the crime wave the 30 years prior.

Dec. 12 2011 11:45 AM
fuva18 from Harlemworld

Don't know if the question about the correlation between crime and poverty is facetious. But the answer is, absolutely.

Dec. 12 2011 11:45 AM
J. Ryan Fuller from New York City

As a clinical psychologist I have done a little bit of research, as well as clinical work with aggressive people involved with the courts.

Dr. Steven Levitt (author of Freakonomics) has conducted research that emphasizes the role of legalizing abortion on the drop in crime rates.

What does Dr. Zimring think of this research?


Dec. 12 2011 11:45 AM

Research Links Lead Exposure, Criminal Activity by By Shankar Vedantam Washington Post Staff Writer

"Although crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani's tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show that the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

Through much of the 20th century, lead in U.S. paint and gasoline fumes poisoned toddlers as they put contaminated hands in their mouths. The consequences on crime, Nevin found, occurred when poisoning victims became adolescents. Nevin does not say that lead is the only factor behind crime, but he says it is the biggest factor"


"Many other theories have emerged to try to explain the crime decline. In the 2005 book "Freakonomics," Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner said the legalization of abortion in 1973 had eliminated "unwanted babies" who would have become violent criminals. Other experts credited lengthy prison terms for violent offenders, or demographic changes, socioeconomic factors, and the fall of drug epidemics. New theories have emerged as crime rates have inched up in recent years.

Most of the theories have been long on intuition and short on evidence. Nevin says his data not only explain the decline in crime in the 1990s, but the rise in crime in the 1980s and other fluctuations going back a century. His data from multiple countries, which have different abortion rates, police strategies, demographics and economic conditions, indicate that lead is the only explanation that can account for international trends.

Because the countries phased out lead at different points, they provide a rigorous test: In each instance, the violent crime rate tracks lead poisoning levels two decades earlier.

Dec. 12 2011 11:45 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

No, fella, we DO know that stopping and frisking innocent people for 'walking/ standing while black or latino' IS, as it is presently administered, unacceptable.

Dec. 12 2011 11:42 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

The Quality of life, "broken window" theory was paramount under Guilliani, Dinkins' addition of an extra 30,000 officers also helped. Taking away the 4th ammendment for working class minority men - critical.

Dec. 12 2011 11:40 AM
Jim B

Is there any correlation between poverty and crime? Is it possible crime has been gentrified out of Manhattan since the 80's?

Dec. 12 2011 11:40 AM
Matt from Brooklyn

Why are you spending time talking about this when the NYPD once again this morning have been aggressive arresting peaceful protesters in downtown Manhattan?

Dec. 12 2011 11:39 AM
a mcfall

Mobile phone and beeper have change street crime for ever. Are there less hooker and pot smoke now or have they move away from the pay phone?

Dec. 12 2011 11:36 AM
Paul from Bronx

I am a mechanic for 35 years. The low auto theft numbersin the last 10 years are 99% attributable to technology, You cannot break an ignition system any more and drive the car away. Micro chips forbid it. Television and movies never got it right.

Dec. 12 2011 11:35 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I hasten to add, the Welfare Reforms that forced many traditional but able-bodied welfare clients to actually have to work for their checks. I have to thank New Gingrich as well as Clinton who was forced into this heavily criticized welfare reform, that essentially forced so many to get into the world of work, and this eventually helped many of them to lift themselves out of drugs and dependency. So that was another major factor, along with Giuliani's getting the police to storm the Housing Projects and clean out the drug nests.

Dec. 12 2011 11:33 AM
Amy from Manhattan

But is the percentage of the decrease the same in rich & poor areas? And the part Prof. Zimring leaves out is that even though the same % drop means the no. of crimes that don't happen is higher in poor areas than in rich areas, the no. of crimes that still happen there is also higher.

Dec. 12 2011 11:33 AM
Margaret from Brooklyn

This emphasis on "stats" feels backwards and hollow after listening to This American Life's recent show "#414: Right to Remain Silent"---all about how NYC's crime drop in the 90s set the stage for a lot of corruption we have going on today. Because of this glorifying of stats, it's basically standard (not only across the boroughs but the country) to find superiors threatening offices to get better "stats." We need a new system.

Dec. 12 2011 11:31 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Anyone who didn't live in this city between 1968 and 1992 knows SQUAT about NYC! Anyone who came here after 1992 is noob, a tourist who knows nothing of when this city was in the PITS!

Parts of this city was almost as bad as Beirut in the civil war! Have to thank both Giuliani, and ironically Farrakhan who promoted his "million man march" wherein blacks made a compact to restore family life and reduce anti-social and criminal behaviors. Those are two main factors in the incredible turnaround that occurred after 1992.

Dec. 12 2011 11:29 AM
tom from manhattan

does this crime stat info include Madoff type

Dec. 12 2011 11:29 AM
Johnnjersey from NJ

I attribute much of it to Roe v Wade. Who commits crimes? Mostly young men who come from difficult situations (poverty, broken homes, abuse, etc.) And since 1972 a woman could legally not bring a child like that into the world, so it is no surprise that the crime rate starts to drop 15-20 years later and stays down.

Dec. 12 2011 11:29 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

This guy's point of reference is the crack era. Drug epidemics have their own natural lifecycles, some apsects of which are independent of law enforcement.

Dec. 12 2011 11:28 AM
bernie from bklyn

NYC is not nearly as safe as people like this make it out to be. yes, it's a bit better than it was i.e. dinkins era.
compstat says it safer but compstat is not reality. the police don't do honest policing, they arrest and charge people to complement their compstat status. in other words, armed robberies turn into burglaries, attempted murders turn into assaults. and they go for the low hanging fruit like frisking kids for weed. it's a big fraud.

Dec. 12 2011 09:13 AM

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