Sunday, September 04, 2011

How New York Beat Crime

I enjoyed this to-the-point article about "How New York Beat Crime" and include it here because, as I've written many times before, I think the best highly-successful road map for how to fix our schools isn't Finland, a tiny country that looks nothing like ours (though we can learn much from Finland, to be sure), but the revolutionary transformation of the NYC police department and the stunning drop in crime over the past two decades.  Here's the conclusion to the article, and below is an email I sent out earlier this year:

Perhaps the most optimistic lesson to take from New York's experience is that high rates of homicides and muggings are not hardwired into a city's populations, cultures and institutions. The steady, significant and cumulatively overwhelming crime decline in New York is proof that cities as we know them need not be incubators of robbery, rape and mayhem. Moreover, it demonstrates that the environment in which people are raised does not doom them to a lifetime outside the law—and that neither do their genes. That result is a fundamental surprise to many students of the American city and is the most hopeful insight of criminological science in a century.

Here's my email:

Ravitch Article Response

I want to comment on two things Ravitch said in this article.  First:

…It's the argument Ravitch has been making for a year. "They're not shoe stores that you can close and move to a different mall," she said during a panel debate afterwards. "We don't close the firehouse if there are more fires in the neighborhood. We don't close the police station if there is more crime in the neighborhood." Instead, singing from the liberal hymnal, she argued for policies to address the poverty-related "root causes" of academic failure.

These are EXACTLY the same insanely stupid arguments that were used to excuse police departments when crime was rampant.  It's hard to remember those days, but prevalent at that time was the now-discredited theory that crime was the inevitable consequence of poverty, our racist society, etc., and therefore the police could only be excepted to sit in their station houses and respond to 911 calls – mostly to come pick up the bodies.

Since then, in NYC (which I've studied most closely), the murder rate is down by an astonishing 80%.  Yes, there have been some external factors that have contributed to this decline like the passing of the crack epidemic, but the overwhelming evidence is that more effective policing has made a HUGE impact.  When Giuliani and Bratton set out to reform the NYC police department 17 years ago (which at the time was as bureaucratic, dysfunctional, and ineffective as wide swaths of NYC's school system remain today), they pushed power down to the precinct level and then held precinct commanders accountable.  Guess what the turnover was within the first two years?  TWO-THIRDS of the precinct commanders didn't cut it.  But this was great news, as younger, more competent, go-getters were promoted.  Concurrent with this was the greater use of data (Compstat) and range of other measures – plus a critical culture shift.  Basically, the entire philosophy of policing was turned upside down: at every level of the police department, data was collected and the police were expected to impact it – namely, to REDUCE CRIME!  It sounds so obvious, but it was revolutionary back then – and, of course, there were plenty of nay-sayers who said it couldn't be done, it wasn't fair to officers to hold them accountable when they couldn't do anything about poverty, there would be cheating (and there was some, to be sure), etc. 

Under Bloomberg and Klein, the same philosophical and operational transformation was begun, but it still hasn't taken root throughout the system so much more work needs to be done…


How New York Beat Crime

By Franklin E. Zimring

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