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Study Says a Slumping Economy Doesn't Mean Crime Will Rise
By Kevin Flynn
Higher unemployment and a faltering economy will not necessarily lead to higher crime in New York City if the police continue their effective enforcement efforts, according to a study released yesterday by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
In fact, the researchers found that many areas of New York that had higher unemployment in recent years actually had slightly sharper declines in crime, in part because of innovative patrol strategies by police officers.
"They really make a difference," said Prof. George L. Kelling, a criminologist at Rutgers University and a co-author of the study, titled "Do Police Matter? An Analysis of the Impact of New York City's Police Reforms."
Professor Kelling is a senior fellow at the institute, a conservative research group, and is an author of the "broken windows" theory, which says that the key to fighting crime is to address all offenses, even seemingly minor ones. In remarks yesterday at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, Professor Kelling said his study was intended to empirically test the assumption that the decline in the use of crack cocaine and the booming economy of the 1990's had more to do with the drop in crime than police enforcement efforts.
As part of the analysis, the researchers looked at crime statistics for all 76 police precincts from 1989 to 1998 and correlated them against data that measured the borough unemployment rates, the number of young men in the neighborhoods and the use of cocaine. They found that crime dropped sharply in nearly every precinct, including those that had widely divergent numbers of poor people or drug users.
In particular, the study found no evidence that the declining use of cocaine, as measured by hospital discharges for cocaine-related episodes, was associated with a drop in crime, or that the escalating use was associated with an increase.
More likely, Professor Kelling said, the declines were precipitated by the "broken windows" approach to law enforcement, in which the police made many more misdemeanor arrests for lesser offenses in hopes of creating a sense of social order that deterred crime.
Alfred Blumstein, a professor of criminology at Carnegie Mellon University, said he was not convinced that the study had damaged the thesis that the economy and a drop-off in drug use were important contributing factors. For one thing, he said, the data used to measure unemployment was too blunt and unreliable.
©2001 The New York Times
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